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First Man movie

Posted by John T. Reed on

I just took my 8-year-old granddaughter to see the movie First Man. It is PG-13, but I figured that was because of a curse word, which it was.

About wives and death

But it was as much about the wives of the astronauts as it was about the astronauts. It was about what it is like being married to a man who has a very dangerous job: terrifying.

It also reminds you that dealing with the emergencies that happen in flight including space flight is quite remarkable. These guys are supermen.

Maybe their depiction overstates it. Vibration that blinds you because your head and the stuff you are trying to look at are rapidly bouncing. Noise that makes it near impossible to understand the radio communication. Maybe the reality is not that bad.

Technical stuff inadequately explained

I had to explain a lot to Courtney. Because the film does not. For example, a Gemini mission where Armstrong was captain had his capsule tumbling end over end at high speed. The fire in the capsule mentioned oxygen but how that accelerates a fire that would be less deadly if they used air instead of oxygen was not explained. 

And the complexity of the Apollo 11 mission was not covered: multiple booster rockets that were shed, a landing module that needed to be disconnected then reattached to the other end of the to the moon and back module, landing the LEM on the surface of the moon, blasting back off in yet another spacecraft, redocking with the orbiting Mike Collins, and finally dumping all but the reentry vehicle.

Long Gray Line prominent in the movie

I was surprised at how much the movie was about Ed White, Jr. He is a West Point grad and was the first American to walk in space. He spoke to us at West Point after his June 3, 1965 space walk. I was also in a little gaggle of cadets who gathered around him in our central quad around lunch time. He was burned to death in a fire in a capsule on the ground on January 27, 1967, my junior year.

I told Courtney all that as White kept reappearing in the movie. Ditto with Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin, also both West Point grads.

The movie made Aldrin look like a jerk. Too much to say and too much about himself. I only knew one thing about him. He was an alcoholic when he was on the moon. That was dead wrong. He had a duty to tell his crewmates and his superiors about that. He did not. I never saw him in person.

I met Collins in a hotel elevator once and spoke to him briefly. Courtney also said Apollo 11 were the first men to go to the moon. I corrected her saying Apollo 8 was the first, but they just orbited. That is where Frank Borman read his Christmas greeting to all back on the “good earth.” Borman is another West Pointer.

Do I feel more of a kinship with the West Point astronauts than I do with famous graduates of my high school (Michael Landon, John Sterban of the Oakridge Boys, and John Aglialoro, the Cybex head who produced the Atlas Shrugged movies)? Yes. Collingswood was a better-than-average academic high school, but it had none of the special training or expectations of West Point. There, we were all trained in the extreme and similarly back in the 1950s and 60s. And we all tended to go on to noteworthy things after graduation, like war and military activities like pilots, combat commanders.

There were also Apollo 9 and 10. Nine practiced with the lunar vehicles but stayed in earth orbit and never went to the moon. Ten went to the moon and did everything but land on the moon. Eleven was the first to land on the moon.

I have read that the Apollo 11 astronauts did not expect to survive the mission—too many complicated things had to go right. In fact, there were screw-ups and malfunctions, but the crew overcame or ignored them.

Better them than me

My hat’s off to them, but I would not have done it. Too shaky a chain of events. I still do not trust space travel. People never stopped dying doing it. We started putting tourists up there, like the teacher Christa McAuliffe who died in the event. Senator John Glenn, a former Mercury Astronaut went up in a shuttle, but he was much older then and was more of a tourist. A couple of billionaires have gone up safely.

One of my college classmates and I planned in the 1960s to reunite on the moon in 1980. We overestimated the speed of space being turned into a routine airline travel venue.

I expect Bezos and Musk are going to get a few people killed with their private space ships. I believe a lot more jet planes hours were flown before the 707 let laymen do it.

Excellent movie. Probably too much about death and marriage for an 8-year old. Also a little lean on the details of space travel and how the crews did as well as they did.


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