When The Right Stuff was released in 1983 it was not a commercial success despite high praise from critics. There was maybe a sense by audiences that it was too overtly political or patriotic, which overtly it isn't. However, the movie found some success in VHS and DVD sales.
This is essentially three stories: The story of Chuck Yeager, the story of the Mercury "7" astronauts, and the story of the media and political circus over the early space program.
The film doesn't pull any punches. It likes to make fun of just about everything. The movie spends much more time satirizing Lyndon Johnson or showing the indignities the astronauts had to go through than it does any form for space exploration. This is not a film that is particularly interested in science; it is much more interested in the human drama of its characters. This combination of humor with patriotic heroism ends up being the perfect mixture. In fact, the three-hour film feels like a perfect movie and 32 years later it is just as watchable.
This movie loves trivial details which give the film an authentic feel. It could have been 30 minutes shorter, but then it would have lost some of the atmosphere it gained from focussing on minutia.
The musical score is wonderful.
I regret waiting at least 20 years to watch it again. This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch again roughly every 10 years.
Had I made the movie I would have put more emphasis on science, but that might have been boring to most people. Maybe future generations will wonder why there isn't more science in the film?