‘First Man’ had its scary mo­ments

Mis­sions were shot with big screen in mind.

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - 4D

Just in case you were think­ing of tak­ing a trip to the cos­mos on Richard Bran­son’s Vir­gin Ga­lac­tic, “First Man” makes space travel look like both the coolest and the most ter­ri­fy­ing thing ever.

Direc­tor Damien Chazelle’s pe­riod drama chron­i­cles the lead-up to Neil Arm­strong (Ryan Gosling) tak­ing his fa­mous step on the moon and fea­tures hair-rais­ing mis­sions that were shot with the big screen in mind. (Nat­u­rally, the 1969 lu­nar land­ing that cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion is one of them.)

Here are five of the most har­row­ing:

Let’s go for a test flight!

The movie opens in 1961, with Arm­strong pi­lot­ing an X-15 air­craft built for hy­per­sonic flight and nav­i­gat­ing crazy high al­ti­tude – just kiss­ing the edges of space. But as Arm­strong pre­pares to re­turn, his equip­ment mal­func­tions (this be­comes a run­ning theme) and he starts to rise, get­ting dan­ger­ously close to drift­ing off into space to cer­tain doom. Thank­fully, he gets the plane mov­ing down­ward (thanks, physics!) for a bumpy and stress­ful ride back.

Wel­come to the vom­i­to­rium

Arm­strong is ac­cepted as an as­tro­naut in NASA’s moon-cen­tric Project Gemini pro­gram in 1962, and one of the ways man­agers see if he has the right stuff is in a gi­gan­tic ma­chine called the Multi-Axis Trainer, which spins our he­roes on three dif­fer­ent axes to sim­u­late be­ing out of con­trol in space. With his fel­low dudes giv­ing the en­gi­neer some side-eye, Arm­strong gets in the con­trap­tion and is spun ev­ery which way un­til he passes out. When he wakes up, he wants to go again – this time he makes it through, then high­tails it to the bath­room.

The worst kind of spin cy­cle

The Gemini 8 mis­sion in 1966 al­lowed NASA to dock two space­craft in or­bit for the first time – in­te­gral to the suc­cess of get­ting to the moon – but also made some his­tory (not the good kind) when it suf­fered a crit­i­cal in-space sys­tem fail­ure, send­ing Arm­strong and co-pi­lot David Scott (Christo­pher Ab­bott) tum­bling to earth. Arm­strong took the reins for the white-knuckle voy­age through re-en­try, spin­ning out of con­trol and lead­ing to one of the most stom­achchurn­ing se­quences in “First Man.”

Lu­nar train­ing doesn’t go so well

The freaky stuff doesn’t all hap­pen in space. When Arm­strong is tapped to head up the jaunt to the moon – and land the thing – he goes through his paces back on Earth learn­ing to pi­lot the Lu­nar Land­ing Train­ing Ve­hi­cle. Look­ing like a very large me­chan­i­cal grasshop­per, the open-framed mon­stros­ity mal­func­tions af­ter jerk­ing Arm­strong around, and he ejects right be­fore it crashes into a fiery heap. Chazelle shows the au­di­ence Arm­strong’s per­spec­tive as he para­chutes to safety, look­ing at the singed metal that could have been him. “We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there,” Arm­strong says.

Hello, moon

Nat­u­rally, the Apollo 11 land­ing is the

pièce de ré­sis­tance. Noth­ing ma­jor goes wrong here (whew!) and Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) be­come the first guys to stroll on the moon’s dusty sur­face. From Arm­strong’s view, we see the majesty and vast­ness of space that’s thrilling to be­hold, and in the mid­dle of this his­toric achieve­ment comes the most emo­tional mo­ment in the en­tire film, when Arm­strong can fi­nally come to terms with his daugh­ter’s death.


Dave Scott (Christo­pher Ab­bott, left) and Neil Arm­strong (Ryan Gosling) pi­lot the Gemini 8 mis­sion in “First Man.”


Arm­strong (Gosling) nar­rowly es­capes his lu­nar train­ing ve­hi­cle be­fore it crashes.

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