Nuggets from the moon
First Man is based on the 2005 authorized biography of the same name by James R. Hansen. It’s a fascinating read and a thick book. Here are just 10 anecdotes we picked up that didn’t make it into the film:
Neil Armstrong was convinced he’d been born too late for aeronautical greatness.
“The record-setting flights ... across the oceans, over the poles, and to the corners of the Earth, had all been accomplished,” he once said. “I had missed all the great times and adventures.”
Buzz Aldrin comes off as a bit of a jerk in the movie, but for real sour grapes listen to astronaut Walt Cunningham complain about Armstrong ’s “botched” first mission: Armstrong “parlayed a busted Gemini VIII flight into the Buck Rogers grand prize mission, the first lunar landing.”
During the summer of 1966, Armstrong was part of the backup crew for Gemini 11, and would sometimes spend time on a NASA-owned Florida beach with other astronauts, drawing orbital trajectories in the sand. In case you thought it was all blackboards and white shirts.
All the fuss over whether Armstrong or Aldrin would be first on the moon came to a head in March, 1969, when four NASA bigwigs got together and decided that calm, quiet, confident Armstrong had to be first.
He was “the Lindbergh type,” a reference to the first man to cross the Atlantic non-stop, though presumably not to Lindbergh’s racist views.
In case you think Armstrong never displayed a sense of humour, here’s a geology prank he almost pulled: “I was tempted to sneak a piece of limestone up there with us on Apollo 11 and bring it back as a sample. That would have upset a lot of apple carts!” He adds: “But we didn’t do it.”
In another lighthearted moment, just before entering the moonship, Armstrong gave launch pad leader Guenter Wendt a small card that said “Space taxi — good between any two planets.”
Among the personal items that Armstrong took to the moon were two pieces of the Wright brothers’ first successful airplane, which can thus be argued to have flown on two worlds.
For all the hoopla over the movie First Man not showing the planting of the U.S. flag, it should be noted that neither does it show this ignominious moment during takeoff, reported by Aldrin: “I was concentrating intently on the computers, and Neil was studying the attitude indictor, but I looked up long enough to see the American flag fall over.”
In 1970, Armstrong talked to some aircraft engineers about using digital fly-by-wire systems in future planes, which we now do. When they replied that they’d never heard of a flight-qualified digital computer, he told them: “I just went to the moon and back on one.”
Though not widely publicized, Armstrong in 1985 joined an expedition to the North Pole.
“It was so different from everything we would normally see in our usual life,” he said. “It was well worth the troubles of the trip.” On a smaller journey to a new amusement park he was asked what rides he wanted to try. “Nothing too dangerous,” he replied.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong smiles for a photo inside the Lunar Module while it rested on the lunar surface. Armstrong was first out the lunar module, Eagle, onto the dusty surface of Tranquility Base.