Former Nasa training chief Frank Hughes worked on Gemini and Apollo missions, and consulted on First Man. He shares his experiences…
I joined Nasa in 1966.
I was 22 years old. the space race was intense, but at the same time, it was marvellous. We had an incredible opportunity to do things that nobody had ever done. the best adventure anybody could have.
I worked five days around the clock
on the real apollo 13 rescue mission. I would go into a conference room and put my head down, get a couple of hours of sleep, and then wake up and go back. My secretary went to buy me some underwear and a couple of shirts. We had a place to shower so we didn’t get too ripe.
Working on First Man
we’re dealing with a bunch of very good actors, and they had to look like pilots, like they’d been doing this for years. all of the astronauts would come to me and say, “What was [the real person] like?” because I had known all these characters.
What I said to Ryan Gosling,
and what he had figured out on his own, amalgamated into a really good representation. It’s amazing that sometimes I felt like I was in a séance, with some of these good friends who came back.
During the run-up to the Apollo 11 mission
I interacted with Neil armstrong every day. We were playing softball, we would go to lunch, and so on. He had a very dry sense of humour. I knew his kids as rug rats running around, but now they’re in the movie, in the mission control scene.
In the control centre scene,
the actors started to celebrate. Everybody cheers and claps and is shaking hands. But then they’re also doing high fives and chest bumps and all these kind of things. and they stop and I say, “No, no, no.” Let’s go back to the handshakes, and maybe a hand on the shoulder, and a little more decorum.
In space movies,
there’s a mix between the technology and the drama. If we fly a spacecraft and do it the way we plan, it’s boring as hell – which is the best kind of spacecraft. that’s how it is. In these cases, when you put it together, the drama has to still be there.
Apollo 13 did a great job on the hardware.
On the other hand, everything you saw in Gravity, with the ships getting blown up: that’s not a physics lesson. the best thing about [Gravity] is it’s the best view of what Earth looks like from orbit; you see what an astronaut sees.