By Fleet Capt. Dave Mason
NORTHRIDGE — I felt like I was on the moon.
“First Man” brought its viewers along with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) on their historic descent in the Lunar Excursion Module and Armstrong’s historic words “The Eagle has landed.”
The careful direction by Damien Chazelle, who also directed Gosling in the Oscar-nominated musical “La La Land” (2016), made me feel like we were next to Armstrong as he made his “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” quote. (Armstrong long argued that he did say “a man” than simply “man.”)
I enjoyed the ride, including Armstrong’s dramatic adventure on Gemini 8, as other USS Angeles members and I watched “First Man” Oct. 13 at Pacific Theatres 10Plex at the Northridge Fashion Center. Kat Campbell, Jennifer Cole, Sue-Ellen and Carl Fox, Emery “E.J.” Jakab, Lisa Sobien and I arrived there early and sat together for a great view of Earth and beyond.
The movie we saw is based on “First Man,” James Hansen’s 2012 Armstrong biography.
The film showed Armstrong (1930-2012), an engineer who had been a Navy pilot in the Korean War, bravely taking risks as a test pilot of the X-15 at Edwards Air Force Base. The film didn’t go into a lot of detail, but Armstrong broke the record for the longest flight for the X-15, the rocket-powered plane that bridged the gap between aircrafts and spacecrafts.
The story addressed Armstrong’s grief with the loss of his young daughter and his life with his wife, Janet (played effectively by “The Crown’s” Claire Foy). Gosling and Stoll also demonstrated the differences between Armstrong, the quiet, reflective leader, and the more outgoing Aldrin, who sometimes had to remove his foot from his mouth.
Other Angeles members and I saw the differences between the two men when we encountered them in person. We saw Aldrin at “Star Trek” conventions where the friendly former astronaut joked effortlessly and promoted a return to the moon.
Armstrong seemed enthusiastic but more concise. Angeles members and I saw him speak at the farewell convention for James “Jimmy” Doohan, aka Scotty, at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood. He praised Scotty and said he would love to have him as his engineer on a spaceship.
“First Man” showed the challenge Armstrong and other astronauts faced in training for Gemini, the two-men capsule program that followed the first manned spacecrafts, the single-man Mercury capsules. Gemini’s objective was to perfect the docking that would be essential for the Command Module and the Lunar Excursion Module in the three-men Apollo missions to the moon.
“First Man” demonstrates the dangerous twists and turns during Armstrong’s Gemini 8 mission, during which he became the first civilian astronaut in space. The movie also revisited the tragic Apollo 1 explosion that happened after a spark ignited a fire in the oxygen atmosphere in the Command Module during a test. The astronauts died inside the capsule at Cape Canaveral.
The dangers of space journey, on Earth and beyond, were clear in the movie, but the film also demonstrated the triumphs of exploration. For me, nothing in the movie compared to the moment of seeing Armstrong’s first footprint on July 20, 1969, on the moon during Apollo 11.
After the movie, Kat needed to leave early. The rest of the Angeles members enjoyed dinner at the nearby Red Robin, where we celebrated Sue-Ellen’s birthday.
But our adventure in space wasn’t over. Not really. For the details, see the December issue of Angels Flight, our newsletter that goes to our members. To become one, click on “Join us.”
By Fleet Capt. Dave Mason