Thought Leadership

First Man

By Colin Walls

I would not describe myself as a “movie buff”, but we do go to see a great many movies. The reason is that we are members of the local theater, which means that we pay an annual fee and get a certain number of tickets for drama performances etc. We also get a pair of tickets to every movie – there are just a couple each week. We do not go to see them all – we often give tickets to friends – but we do go to see many movies that we would not probably have left the house for otherwise.

I am not in the habit of passing comment on movies here, but sometimes I am moved to do so …

Whenever I book movie tickets, I endeavour to get seats F1 and F2. This is the row of more comfortable seats and 1/2 are the end of the row at the aisle. We can always make a quite getaway if the movie is truly dire. We have yet to actually make an escape, but we have come close a few times, commenting as we leave: “That is 2 hours of my life I will never get back”. [Surprisingly there have been a couple of plays where we have failed to return after the interval, but only two in 7 years of membership is OK.]

Many movies are an entertaining and a pleasant way to spend an evening, but nothing more. Others stay with me. Also, when watching some movies, I am fascinated by how it was made; in others, I get wrapped up in the story [which is what the movie makers intend, I believe. ?]. Last weekend, we went to see First Man and I would like to share my impressions.

First off, it is long – 2 hours 20 minutes or thereabouts. I am advised that, if you are not particularly gripped by the history of spaceflight, that might be an hour or so too long! I was OK with the duration, but accept that a little judicious editing may have helped. The second thing about the movie is that it is not primarily about the moon landing – though that event is featured – it is really a biopic about Neil Armstrong. The result of this is coverage of actual spaceflights is confined to the key ones on which Armstrong participated: Gemini VIII and Apollo 11. Everything else in the movie is about the space program itself and his family life. We do not, for example, see anything about Apollo 1 to 10. I would have liked some insight into the feelings of astronauts who contributed to the moon landing and almost got there, but not quite; for example the crews of Apollo 8 and 10 and Michael Collins, who orbited the moon on both Apollo 8 and 11 [“always the bridesmaid …” ?].

I can only assume the the core factual content of the movie was accurate and, as a result, I learned quite a few things [despite having been a keen follower of the moonshot when I was a kid – I was 12 in 1969]:

  • Neil Armstrong was a civilian.
  • The Gemini program was specifically intended to master the techniques for docking of spacecraft; it had been decided that the Apollo program would be implemented using multi-component vehicles.
  • The whole program was very fragile – using very unproven technology. Their confidence in success was far from 100% [hence the contingency announcement that was prepared for use in the event that the crew were stranded on the moon].

All my adult life, I have been somewhat disappointed that [manned] space exploration has not reached further. I confidently expected a man on Mars by the turn of the century. But now I can see just how hard it was to get to the moon and can fully appreciate how much has been achieved since then. For example, docking with the ISS seems to be no harder than parking a car; there are even robot vehicles that deliver supplies.

A particular scene in the movie stuck in my mind and makes me smile. Armstrong is on the training program and the guys need to spend time on various simulators. One machine moves them rapidly around in three axes. Their goal was to gain control and stabilize it before they passed out. In the next scene we see the guys rushing into the [disgusting] restrooms to throw up. In the following scene they are back in the classroom and every trainee is sitting there calmly, with a vomit stain down their front.


One thought about “First Man

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at