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The First Man and the unfashionableness of optimism

A week or so ago I went to see The First Man at the cinema. At first it seemed to do a good job of turning historical figures into real people. The domestic lives of the astronauts contrasted with the bravery of their test flights. There were lots of scenes of worried housewives which seemed believable enough. Armstrong is portrayed as a serious engineer with good attention to detail. He makes some mistakes which his bosses put down to being distracted by his daughter’s ill health. After she dies, Armstrong is understandably never truly happy. He does not express his emotions, and tells one friend who tries to talk to him, “if I wanted to talk to someone, do you think I would be standing out here [away from everyone]?” I like that line: I have felt like that at times.

When the Gemini 8 flight has problems, his wife hears about it and she goes to complain that her audio feed has been switched off to protect her from hearing about what is going on. Don’t worry, she is told, we have everything under control. No you don’t, she retorts, “you’re a bunch of boys playing with balsa wood models.” There is a certain truth to that line which I enjoyed: it is hard to have complete understanding of a complex enough system, and there is a certain playfulness to engineering.

There is a montage about protestors complaining about the cost of the Apollo program and listing better ways of spending tax dollars such as by helping poor people. We see Gil Scott-Heron on stage reading his poem Whitey On The Moon. It made sense to portray these things in the movie.

A lot of Armstrong’s colleagues are killed. The Apollo 1 cockpit testing scene is hard to watch if you know what is coming. A lot of the movie is spent with Armstrong taking the deaths hard. There are a lot of funeral scenes. There is a scene where Armstrong’s wife makes him explain to his kids that he might not survive Apollo 13.

They fly to the moon. I have a big criticism of the cinematography: I am sure spacecraft do not vibrate that much. There must be other ways to portray speed and acceleration. They fly home. Once home, Armstrong’s wife visits him in quarantine. He seems sullen. She seems sullen. The End.

And then it hit me: no-one is happy about going to the moon. There is no pride, no sense of achievement, no celebration of the accomplishment whatever. All we learn is that we are doing it to beat the Soviets, it costs a lot of money, there is a huge human cost, people worry and suffer, relationships are strained. This is a joyless movie. It portrays no up-side. The closest we get to any kind of positive commentary on the Apollo project is when Armstrong first applies for the job. The superiors ask why he wants to go to the moon and he answers with a speech about mankind’s need to explore. The superiors seem skeptical, but pleased: the message is that this guy can be trusted to say the right things. Being happy about going to the moon is for the stupid masses.

On my bookshelf I have a couple of anthologies of the Eagle comic from the 50s and 60s.

Phosphates for The World

They feature cutaway drawings explaining wonders of technology, present and future, all of it wonderfully unapologetic. We are doing awesome things and we will do even more awesome things soon, kids are told. Today’s teenagers are bombarded with worry and pessimism. BBC Focus magazine is a science magazine that seems to be aimed at young audience and it features an article about climate change and how having children is bad. The Week Junior seems to be full of articles about endangered animals and banning plastic. If I did not know that most of the terrible problems are not terrible problems and that the world is in general getting better, I might be a bit despondent about all that. If I was an impressionable youth I might rebel against it; I hope they do.

49 comments to The First Man and the unfashionableness of optimism

  • Brian Swisher

    If you want the exuberance and optimism of the early space race, revisit The Right Stuff, both the book and the movie. For true endurance and perseverance under near-deadly conditions, best see Apollo 13.

  • Umbriel

    Armstrong’s mission was Apollo 11, not 13, Mr. Fisher.

    Armstrong wasn’t what you’d call an effervescent guy, and focusing on him personally inherently made for a quietly inspirational movie at best. It sounds like the film could at least have used some more time spent focusing on the folks his actions were inspiring to achieve a better rounded picture of that moment in time. Unfortunately, culturally speaking the inspiration of that moment was drowned out pretty quickly in the turmoil of the late ’60s and the hangover of the ’70s.

    I recall people commenting at the time “What could be accomplished if all the money spent on the space program was used for social programs instead?” Well, space programs were dialed back dramatically in the early ’70s, and we’ve since spent many times Apollo’s cost on “social programs”, and we have the answer: Not much.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Apollo 13. On the shortlist of all-time best movies ever, and in many ways. It would be on the shortshortshortlist of all-time best SF movies, but unfortunately it doesn’t meet the criterion for eligibility.

    Agree with Brian on that, and it’s an uplifting movie too because the Good Guys win, and the deadly opponent is truly a Force of Nature rather than some scumbag human, and the Good Guys, with considerable help from their friends — but they are the ones actually in the Hot Seat and have to do the Overcoming — manage to turn the Force away from its Dark Side.

    I saw it in the theatre when it came out and I found it rivetting. I’ve watched it on the VCR many times since.

  • bobby b

    “We understand that you used your incredible skills and intellect and imagination to land a space probe on a tiny little asteroid 310 million miles away from the Earth, but your shirt has drawings of large-breasted women on it! Aren’t you ashamed? Your so-called accomplishment pales beside this transgression.”

    It’s the idea that failure to pursue left-wing goals makes anything irredeemable, that no accomplishment that can be linked to the white male patriarchy can be valued, that “you didn’t build that!”. Cured cancer today? So what, you failed to honor any Latinos or other oppressed peoples in the process.

    Half my country thinks this way now. Can a moral person wish for a plague?

  • Brian Swisher

    “…all that money…”

    I forget who it was who pointed out that, at the height of the Apollo program, NASA was spending $5 billion per year, which was still less than the budget overruns of HEW at the time.

  • George Atkisson

    Bobby b –

    Not only are white straight (and frequently Christian) men the go-to villains for all of society’s ills as perceived by the Left, zero credit and praise may be given for what they built and accomplished.

  • Mr Ed

    Of course it is a pessimistic film, the Soviets got beat. Devastating, all the Left can do is moan, steal and kill, it’s what they do. Anything else, it’s like the socialist Fourier expecting vegetarian tigers evolving under socialism and the sea turning to lemonade, ir ain’t gonna happen.

  • Stonyground

    The optimistic outlook of the old Eagle comic made me think of an article that I once wrote as an optimistic diabetic.


  • terence patrick hewett

    It was C P Snow who opined in his lecture The Two Cultures:

    “If the scientists have the future in their bones,” he claimed, “then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.”

    The sciences and engineering are by their very nature optimists.

  • Snorri Godhi


    Apollo 13. On the shortlist of all-time best movies ever, and in many ways. It would be on the shortshortshortlist of all-time best SF movies, but unfortunately it doesn’t meet the criterion for eligibility.

    It qualifies as one of the all-time best science-constrained movies set in space, however! Together with Space Odyssey, Gravity, The Martian, and perhaps Interstellar. (I did not see The Right Stuff, though.)

    I would include Alien and Aliens, but the presence of gravity in the spaceships, let alone the escape shuttle, means that they were not science-constrained: more fiction than science. Still great movies, but not comparable.

  • NickM

    I agree with Julie 100% on Apollo 13. I could go on about the acting, directing, screenplay and visuals… They are all brilliant but…

    What really got me and gets me every time is, even though you know how it ends, it still manages to be tense. When they enter radio silence on re-entry you’re still on the edge your seat with Gene Krantz clicking his pen.

  • NickM

    Oh, and another thing about Apollo 13. In the build-up to the launch as they do the go/no-go checks the flight surgeon is smoking a fag!

  • Deep Lurker

    Bobby b –

    I still hold to the belief that the real sin of the shirt-wearing scientist, in the eyes of the Left, wasn’t that the women on his shirt had large breasts and small amounts of clothing but that they were holding handguns.

  • Aetius

    When Cultural Marxists make films about great historical events and great figures in history, they always take all the pride, patriotism and joy out of the story. For example, the film Dunkirk had a coward as the main protagonist of the film; you could in no way call him a hero. Similarly, the film Darkest Hour about Sir Winston Churchill becoming prime minster managed to be a downbeat biopic. Given that Winston was one of the greatest oraters in the history of the English language it would have been so easy to end on an up beat note, but it pointedly didn’t. In many ways, the worst of these films I have seen was the Iron Lady with Meryl Streep portraying a demented Margaret Thatchered.

    At least in my house all is not lost. My teenage sons home in on all the ‘Boys Own’ type stories from history. So for example they knew who Sargeant Talaiasi Labalaba, late of the SAS, was long before Prince Harry dedicated a statue to him in Fiji the other day.

  • CaptDMO

    Space. The final frontier!
    All I know is Space Food Sticks, Tang, Velcro, and the %$#@ Ruskies took out one of my Iridium Satellites.
    Then I saw a snapshot map of “The space junk… that can be detected”…..

  • Albion's Blue Front Door

    Ah, Eagle comics. I once found a small stack of them in an antique-cum-rubbish shop and couldn’t believe the price. Only 10 quid for the lot! However I didn’t buy them. Every single one had their centre spread cutaway drawing pages removed.

  • A film in which

    no-one is happy about going to the moon

    presumably would have its just reward if none of its backers were happy with their returns, and none of its stars and scriptwriters were happy with the effect on their standing. I suppose it is too early to know whether “we went to the moon (sob)” got as much of an audience outside tinseltown as those inside expected.

    I too have watched Apollo 13 several times. Gravity’s action sequences are superb with one infuriating flaw: it is a violation of physics that the hero’s tragic sacrifice for the heroine is necessary because she is still pleading with him not to do it after the two are at rest with respect to each other. By adjusting the speed of his relative motion past her, their noble, tragic dialog could have been completed without violating Newton’s laws. But I would watch it again despite that.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Rob Fisher,

    You’ve absolutely nailed it with regard to the vanished optimism of that era being encapsulated by Eagle‘s cutaway diagrams and other technical artwork. I was just too young (besides being a GURL) to have read Eagle as a child, but there was a very similar vibe from Look and Learn magazine, which later turned into World of Wonder and then back again if I remember correctly.

    That self-assurance was just beginning to wobble in my 1970s childhood. My Hamlyn Children’s Encyclopaedia portrayed the post-Blitz modernist redevelopment of the Barbican in London as a model that other cities should and would follow in the future. When I was actually taken there it looked a bit of a dump. (It’s since been poshed up again.) I was dimly aware that similar optimistic predictions about the future in my older books hadn’t quite worked out.

    People were right to reject Brutalist architecture, but dear Lord, overall how much more fun it was to be me curled up in front of the gas fire (lovely and warm but you felt sick if you stayed too long) reading about how technology was gonna get us to Mars and solve world poverty ‘n’ stuff than to be a kid nowadays reading dreary exhortations to lecture your parents for their environmental sins. Especially since the Eagle and Look and Learn were more right than wrong. World poverty, the thing you’d think that the dreary moderns cared about most, is well on the way to being solved.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Gravity’s action sequences are superb with one infuriating flaw: it is a violation of physics that the hero’s tragic sacrifice for the heroine is necessary because she is still pleading with him not to do it after the two are at rest with respect to each other.

    Well spotted. I did not notice it while watching the movie, and iirc i only noticed it when reading the goofs page on IMDb.

    Perhaps alerted by my earlier mistake, i did notice a minor flaw in The Martian while watching it. Later on, i found confirmation on IMDb. (There were also other flaws which i did not notice, or was unsure about.)

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Rob – the film is leftist crap, but we warned it would be (made by an anti Trump fanatic who regards the American flag as evil) – it is not just ideology, Hollywood also wants to sell the film to China (and the PRC does not want to see America winning).

    Now let us forget the film – and turn to the actual events.

    The landing on the Moon was perhaps the last gasp of the optimistic marriage of science, technology and the desire to explore that reached back into European history at last as far as the 18th century – and via Henry the Navigator of Portugal all the way back to the Norse (the Norse when they were not doing a Viking) and the Ancient Greeks – especially the Ancient Greeks.

    As Ayn Rand noted – 1969 was the date of both the Apollo mission to the Moon and the Dionysus sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll “Woodstock” event. If life one must CHOOSE between reason (real achievement) and rolling in the dirt addicted to drugs – and saying (as the “Libertarian Left” would) “Apollo was a government project, Woodstock was private – I choose the private sector!” is no answer, it is a horrible evasion of the basic philosophical question.

    As for what path the West has taken – the answer is obvious if we consider how many people are now (50 years after the landing) living on the Moon or outside this planet generally – NONE AT ALL. Our society has rejected the path of reason and achievement and has followed the path of degradation and decay.

    One note of criticism I would make is that I think that “Apollo” was the wrong choice of name – yes he was a God associated with reason, but so much with reason as relating to PRACTICAL ACHIEVEMENT.

    The deity associated with reason especially as relating to Practical Achievement was ATHENA – perhaps the mission should have been named after Athena.

    Perhaps, should civilisation recover, a manned mission to Mars will be named “Athena” – as Aries (Mars) was a rival war God to Athena (who was a Goddess of War – as well as science and the crafts) .

    If it is a private mission they might want to consider a Tawney Livery – as Tawney (orange) is the colour of honourable merchants, being associated in heraldry with benevolent ambition.

  • Stephen K

    “Apollo 13. On the shortlist of all-time best movies ever, and in many ways.”
    Seconded. But even better is the TV show From the Earth to the Moon which, marvellously, depicts all the Apollo missions. The episodes depicting Apollo 9, 12 and 15 are my favourites.

    “When Cultural Marxists make films about great historical events and great figures in history, they always take all the pride, patriotism and joy out of the story.”
    All too true. This sort of thing was merely irritating when it was confined to movies like The English Patient, but now they want to attack our greatest stories.

    Wonders of technology do still sell. One heartening example at the moment is Greg Wallace’s Inside the Factory.

  • madrocketsci

    You see these things so I don’t have to.

    About the only so-called science fiction movie that I’ve seen recently that gets things *spiritually* right (and I have my reasons for using that term) is “The Martian”.

    There is something deeply wrong with culture today, and it still shocks me to discover how differently we saw the world whenever I pick up anything written before the 70s. I’m an engineer. I *need* that optimism. Even if I’ll never live to see the rebirth of the culture that could put a man on the moon, it’s still important to me to remember and experience what it was, back then. You can’t find any trace of it in modern movies and most modern books, but you can stumble across it if you go back through the old stuff from the early 20th century.

    I’m beginning to despise Hollywood as much as I am beginning to suspect Hollywood hates mankind.

  • madrocketsci

    These days I, and I suspect anyone like me, who had put their hope in a future that mankind could build, are looking for water in the absolutely dessicated desert of our modern culture.

    I probably need to start writing myself, just to fill the void.

  • Stephen K

    “I probably need to start writing myself, just to fill the void.”
    The story goes that CS Lewis once said to JRR Tolkien. ‘you know, Tollers, no-one is writing the kind of books we like’, and Tolkien replied, ‘then we shall have to write them ourselves’. Still true today.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Gravity’s action sequences are superb with one infuriating flaw: it is a violation of physics that the hero’s tragic sacrifice for the heroine is necessary because she is still pleading with him not to do it after the two are at rest with respect to each other.”

    That depends. They pass the station along a line offset from it, so have angular momentum with respect to the tether’s atachment point. When the tether pulls taught, it will be at an angle to their motion, so they’ll swing around like weights on the end of a twirling string. They’re at rest with respect to each other but both now rotating about the station, so the tether will be under tension. And as the swing round the tether will wrap around the space station and spiral in, no doubt crashing into a load of debris and protrusions along the way.

    Tie two weights a little apart near one end of a piece of string, tie the other end to a pole, and throw the weights past the pole. See what happens.

    I don’t think the film depicts this scenario entirely accurately either, but if it helps you to enjoy the film again you could try imagining that that was what they intended to show.

    I love physics!

  • Darrell

    Paul, Mars is Ares, not Aries. Aries is the Ram, of course.

  • staghounds

    You wouldn’t believe how optimistic the National Geographic used to be.

  • Nullius in Verba (October 28, 2018 at 11:34 am), you are quite right that centrifugal force would allow the pair to be at rest (easier for their highly-charged dialog) and yet make the hero’s sacrifice needful. Sadly, IIRC, you are also right that the film failed to make this the scenario it showed.

    But I repeat, I would watch Gravity’s action sequences again despite this.

  • Laird

    The physics of Gravity’s action sequences notwithstanding, i didn’t like the movie because her character was not worth saving. The wrong one was sacrificed.

  • James Strong

    Sandra Bullock is the world’s #1 female film ‘actor’.
    That’s the major reason I went to see ‘Gravity’.
    It was a good story too.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Hmph. Here I go again. “Actress” is a perfectly good word, and “#1 actress” is shorter and easier to absorb than the more PC wording.

    (Not criticizing you, James. Just harping on one of the many aspects of usages currently demanded by PC lefties and misguided libruls.)

  • I agree with Julie near Chicago (October 28, 2018 at 9:23 pm) that ‘actress’ is far more appropriate, especially in the context of discussing why I do not wholly agree with Laird (October 28, 2018 at 3:41 pm). I agree that her character’s back story could have done with a bit more work, but Sandra Bullock is competent at portraying the kind of female character that will arouse sympathy, so (IMHO) manages to carry it.

  • Rob Fisher

    Gravity was a good movie (good special effects, filmed especially for 3D, and I’d like hear the Dolby Atmos mix of it which is supposed to be very good) but I’m pretty sure that objects can’t go round and round at a faster speed and remain in the same orbit.

  • Laird

    Sandra Bullock is a fine actress; this is not a criticism of her. But the character she played in that movie was whiny, stupid and worthless. George Clooney’s character had courage and, well, character. I stand by my statement: the wrong one was sacrificed.

  • M2P

    I thought First Man was very good indeed.
    I saw plenty of pride and achievement, just experienced from the viewpoint of someone who was, in real life, not prone to chest-thumping.
    The astronauts varied a lot in their personal motivations. Armstrong had a deep interest in the wider history of aviation, and didn’t like discussing his own personal experience, because it was, well, personal. The film gets that across very well indeed.

    If Gene Cernan had been first, we’d have had a film about storytelling. If Frank Borman had been, we’d have had a film about kicking the Soviets and getting the hell off the moon as fast as possible. If Ed Mitchell had been first, we’d have had a kooky spiritual film. This one tallied very well with Armstrong.

    Agree with the Apollo 13 comments, which always strikes me as a film about great leadership. Lovell taking the responsibility for dropping his crewmate, and then managing his crew through the crisis. Kranz kicking ass but listening too. Marilyn managing the family. Nasa as a whole coming together. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch it, the final scene fills me with tearful elation.

  • EdMJ

    As for what path the West has taken – the answer is obvious if we consider how many people are now (50 years after the landing) living on the Moon or outside this planet generally – NONE AT ALL. Our society has rejected the path of reason and achievement and has followed the path of degradation and decay.

    I’m just about finished reading the Aristillus series which is set in a rebel colony on the moon. It might appeal to some of the readers here. I wouldn’t say it’s great literature, but it’s an enjoyable enough read. The action picks up quite a bit in the second book:


    “Earth in 2064 is politically corrupt and in economic decline. The Long Depression has dragged on for 56 years, and the Bureau of Sustainable Research is hard at work making sure that no new technologies disrupt the planned economy. Ten years ago a band of malcontents, dreamers, and libertarian radicals bolted privately-developed anti-gravity drives onto rusty sea-going cargo ships, loaded them to the gills with 20th-century tunnel-boring machines and earthmoving equipment, and set sail – for the Moon.

    There, they built their retreat. A lunar underground border-town, fit to rival Ayn Rand’s ‘Galt’s Gulch’, with American capitalists, Mexican hydroponic farmers, and Vietnamese space-suit mechanics – this is the city of Aristillus. “

  • Nullius in Verba

    “but I’m pretty sure that objects can’t go round and round at a faster speed and remain in the same orbit.”

    They can’t, but they can move on an intersecting elliptical orbit. I guess you’re talking about the debris field coming round again every 90 minutes?

    If you have an explosion in space all the bits go flying off, but then freefall without additional forces, apart from the Earth’s gravity. Objects in freefall around a single body follow periodic orbits tracing out the same ellipse over and over again (unless they’re going fast enough to escape or hit the Earth’s atmosphere first). So because it started the orbit there, the site of the explosion has to be on the ellipse for every bit of debris, and as they orbit they repeatedly revisit it. They make up a fan of ellipses all intersecting at one point. The period of an orbit (the time between revisiting the same spot) depends on the longer axis of the ellipse, so those vary. Their revisits would spread out in time, and so few would be there when the original circular orbit came around to the original spot again, but it’s not impossible.

    Since orbital speed is so fast (about 8 km/s) and the ‘explosion’ was so slow (a few tens of m/s? Less than 1% change?), the form of the debris field would be along near-circular orbits close to the original that expanded and contracted laterally with each orbit, but that spread out along the direction of the orbit.

    Movies always get the physics wrong – it just has to be close enough to suspend disbelief. But sometimes I think the more accurate you try to make it, the more people notice the holes. It’s like a sort of “uncanny valley” for physics.

  • EdMJ (October 29, 2018 at 12:12 pm), the Aristillus background sounds a lot like that of ‘Operation Ares’ (Gene Wolfe).

    I agree with Nullius in Verba (October 29, 2018 at 12:26 pm) that the film can get away with the debris field behaviour. We certainly don’t have enough specifics on the orbits of the spacecraft and the space station and the spiralling-upward, slowly-dispersing field to challenge it.

    Sandra Bullock is a fine actress; this is not a criticism of her. But the character she played in that movie was whiny, stupid and worthless. George Clooney’s character had courage and, well, character. I stand by my statement: the wrong one was sacrificed. (Laird, October 28, 2018 at 10:48 pm)

    You are correct that right up to the point where the hero (with no warning) realises that saving her means sacrificing himself, she has been a passenger, and so low in spirits that, after her terror in the first disaster diminishes, she seems little interested in saving her own life, let alone his.

    (As I noted above, Sandra’s acting makes it emotionally plausible the hero would nevertheless fight for her, even if duty, honour and all that did not require it. As I also noted above, the writer of the backstory that justifies her low state did not visualise it sufficiently – it needed rework – but, as this is not a film review blog, I’ll skip elaborating on that.)

    But the moment at which he must make the noble sacrifice is also the first moment at which she shows some value: she begs him to take the chance on saving them both. It may also be noted in passing that there would be no point in his suddenly announcing he had embraced third-wave feminism, had realised that chivalry was really demeaning to women, and so had decided to save himself instead. The film’s (inaccurate) physics strongly implies that he either saves her or dooms them both – that the chance she is begging him to take is no chance at all.

    The hero still has to make a yet greater effort to inspire her before she wakes up enough to solve the many remaining problems and make his effort worthwhile by completing the task. But she does in the end. The story that – in more ways than one – he has to die before she will live again – could do with some work, but that is the story, take it or leave it.

  • that the chance she is begging him to take is no chance at all

    (This is not a physics blog any more than it is a film review blog, but sorry – I cannot resist.) Actually, the solution to their problem (if some element added to the film, e.g. some minor centrifugal force, made it a problem at all, yet was minor enough to let the duration of their wordy debate before he takes the plunge not decide the question for them) would be for her to detach and for him to convert pulling rapidly along the now-free-floating cord (which he then detached from) into greater outward momentum for the cord and (with luck) sufficient inward momentum for him to have another chance at the space station.

    Now I just have to figure out how to slow my own outward momentum from this post’s topic. 🙂

  • Nullius in Verba

    “This is not a physics blog any more than it is a film review blog, but sorry – I cannot resist”

    Me neither!

    OK, so I had a think about it in my idle moments. As they pass the station at closest approach they seemed to do so in a few seconds and at a range of on the order of 10 metres. That suggests a speed of around 10 m/s. Suppose the cable her ankle eventually get tangled in is about 200 metres long. They would end up doing about 1/20th their original speed along the 200 m radius circle, on the order of about 1 m/s. They’d take about 10 minutes to do a full circuit, which is slow enough that you might not notice the motion, and the acceleration would be around 1/200 m/s^2, or about 1/20 Earth gravities, about a third of what it is on the moon. When the guy drops away, it does look a bit like lunar gravity, and it would explain how she can effectively lift the weight of a man in a spacesuit by hand – roughly what ten kilos would weigh on Earth. So far, so vaguely plausible.

    So can he use the rope as reaction mass to stop his motion? He needs to fling it sideways along the path of the circle, at a speed that when multiplied by its mass matches his own mass times speed. So if the rope is 0.2 kg, and he’s 200 kg in his spacesuit, he needs to throw it at about 1000 m/s. He needs something about 10 times heavier for even fastball speeds to work, and more if he expects to do it in a spacesuit.

    The most reasonable way out I see would be for the guy to climb up the rope, climb over her body, and grab the rope round her ankle without dislodging it. It can’t be all that insecure, after virtually stopping 400 kg moving at 10 m/s! (That’s like falling off the roof of a house on Earth.) Then they can tie on securely, and pull themselves up or simply wait to spiral in, depending on what’s in the way. Presumably his argument was that he wasn’t convinced he could climb up without dislodging them both, and if they simply waited they’d both be dislodged by the first thing they hit. If I’d been him, I’d have asked if she was willing to take the chance, and given it a go. If you’re slow and gentle, I’d think your odds would be a lot better than 50%. But it wouldn’t be anywhere near as noble.

    In movies, the laws of physics are whatever the story requires them to be.

  • So if the rope is 0.2 kg …

    I was thinking the attachment clips at either end of it looked chunky, Nullius – but as you say

    In movies, the laws of physics are whatever the story requires them to be.

  • JohnK

    I understand that the pissy leftists who made this film declined to show the American flag on the moon, so on the whole I think I shall decline to pay them to watch their movie.

    Given that they dropped the stars and stripes, I don’t suppose they show the astronauts shaving en route with Gillette Techmatic razors and Old Spice shaving cream. I found this commitment to keeping well groomed in zero gravity conditions very impressive.

    It’s possible they may have been keen to look good for any space chicks they met up there. It was 1969, after all.

  • M2P

    No, that’s not true. You do see it. You just don’t see the struggle to plant it, nor indeed it falling over.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Darrell – quite so!

  • Rob Fisher

    M2P: it is interesting that you took the film so differently to me. Perhaps I mis-read the ending; or the portrayal of Armstrong’s character. Or perhaps the film has been edited in my memory. But I did go in knowing almost nothing about the film and determined to enjoy it and there were parts I did enjoy, but it left me feeling rather depressed. Oh well.

  • Niozen

    From the headline, I thought this article was going to be about Philip May. Imagine my relief.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I’ve just read James Hansen’s biography of Armstrong. It’s called First Man. The book is great for space geeks like me as well as the general reader. Interestingly, it wrestles with issues such as Chuck Yeager’s rudeness about his flying skills (utterly unfair) and lifts an unflattering kid on Aldrin’s crass attempts to be the first man on the Moon.

    Armstrong was a cool cat, modest, unpretentious and a gentleman. His conduct since the landings was exemplary: he eschewed the celebrity circus to the point of being called a recluse. He was a driven man and engineering nerd to the end. And yes, he was and is a hero to me.

  • M2P

    Hi Rob

    The problem many of us have here is that it’s impossible to see these things without bringing along a whole load of our own baggage. I knew the names of every character depicted, as well as hundreds who weren’t, and could mentally fill in everything they left out. It’s hard to say really whether it’s uplifting for others. I loved it but I totally get your point.

    I was lucky enough to be involved recently in making a documentary about Mission Control in the Apollo era, and I do think that films like The Right Stuff and even Apollo 13 don’t really capture the fear and sacrifice that you see when you hear the stories. There’s a pivotal moment in our film where one of the controllers says that if he had the chance to do it all again, he wouldn’t do it, such was the toll it took on his family. And he wasn’t in personal danger. Later of course he’s chuckling with the rest of them and I don’t really believe him.

    Saying goodbye to your kids knowing that you might well not come back must be tough. Sitting through endless rehearsals and countdowns and plugs-out tests and scratched launches must be maddening and sometimes really boring. There’s no easy way to capture that on film (a film about scratched countdowns would be very dull indeed) but this one does that by emphasising some of the grunginess, and also capturing a little of Armstrong’s slightly autistic focus on sounds and detail, pushing people to the periphery.

    The best one I’ve seen recently was Space Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane’s book “Riding Rockets”. Mullane was on a shuttle which aborted liftoff after main engine start, and was on another which suffered the biggest-ever (survivable) heat shield damage, and was also big mates with the late Judy Resnik; it’s a wonderfully colourful depiction, but it made me reconsider whether I would really accept a ride on the STS, and you completely accept his decision to retire when he’s had enough. He has some brilliant stories about the culture clash of his fighter jock approach and some of the new intake of women, hippies and Democrats. Warmly recommended.

  • Alisa

    Absolutely with M2P on this: people who did not like the film went to see a film they wanted to see, not the one they ended up seeing – well, as has been pointed out above, there have been plenty of other films made on the same topic that have already satisfied their particular and perfectly valid preferences.

    First Man is not mainly about the Lunar mission or the space race, it is not about the US in general or its role in space exploration in particular – all important topics to be sure, it’s just the film is all about Neil Armstrong the person, not Neil Armstrong the National Figure. The American flag is shown – but the film, being about a particular person and his unique accomplishment (against immense personal and other obstacles), correctly focuses on him and not on the flag.

    I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the individual at least as much as in national pride or technical stuff (and yes, I had some problems with the latter in the film as well).