An estimated 530 million people around the world had their eyes on NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong as he took one “giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969.
Armstrong cemented his role in history that day, becoming the first person to step foot on the moon. Today, walking on the lunar surface is an honor only 11 other men share.
But the backstory of how Armstrong was selected for that job and his tumultuous path to the moon are less well known.
In the movie “First Man,” actor Ryan Gosling plays a young Armstrong in the ambitious and sometimes tragic lead-up to his unlikely journey to the moon.
The film is based on the non-fiction book First Man, which was published by Armstrong’s official biographer James Hansen 13 years ago. Nearly everything chronicled in the film is true (aside from the Hollywood makeup, perhaps), including Armstrong’s near-death experience training to fly the moon lander and the death of a good friend who was chosen for the first Apollo mission.
Screenwriter Josh Singer spent four years researching and writing the movie, which already has some critics and fans buzzing about potential Oscar nominations.
“I was just knocked out by how much we don’t know about Neil Armstrong,” Singer recently told Business Insider.
Here are 22 true facts about Armstrong’s life and the space race that the movie “First Man” recounts:
As the movie properly points out, Russian cosmonauts were ahead of the US at nearly every turn in the Cold War space race — until the moon landing.
The Russians launched Sputnik, the first satellite, in 1957. Then they sent dogs Belka and Strelka into space in 1960, and hit the moon first with its Luna probes. The nation was also the first to put people in space: Yuri Gagarin in 1961 and Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. Alexei Lenov did the first spacewalk in 1965.
Clearly, the US was lagging behind.
Neil Armstrong worked as a test pilot at NASA for years before he went to the moon. He was the first civilian astronaut in space.
Armstrong was no stranger to tragedy. His daughter died at age two from a case of pneumonia while suffering from a malignant brain tumor.
Armstrong was grieving and wanted to “invest [his] energies in something very positive,” his sister June told Hansen. “That’s when he started into the space program.”
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