It is the emotional highlight of the film: Neil Armstrong with his spacesuit standing on the edge of a crater in the moon, holding a bracelet that explains the name of his daughter Karen, who had died seven years before her third birthday.
Played by Ryan Gosling, Armstrong tosses the bracelet into the depths of the dark crater, while tears run down his face, a touching farewell scene that comes to the end of "First Man," Armstrong's biopic directed by Damien Chazelle that It opens throughout the country on Friday. .
There is only one problem. There is no evidence that it ever happened. Historians say that another example of Hollywood is likely to inject some dramatic fiction to increase the emotional impact of the film.
In the authoritative biography that inspired the film, author James Hansen wrote that the memories that Armstrong brought to the moon were limited: some medallions commemorating the lunar mission of Apollo 11, jewels for his wife, a piece of the Wright brothers' plane and his university brotherhood pin.
"I did not bring anything else for me," Hansen quotes Armstrong as saying.
Apparently, his then wife, Janet Armstrong, was distressed because "Armstrong did not take anything else for the family members, not even for their two children," Hansen wrote, adding, "Another loved one that Neil apparently did not remember take nothing from her to the moon, it was her daughter Karen. "
Bill Barry, NASA's chief historian, said questions about the scene came up recently during an event for the film at the Kennedy Space Center. The conclusion, he wrote in an email to The Washington Post: "The scene was created for the film, and there is no specific evidence that Neil Armstrong has left any" commemorative object "on the moon."
Roger Launius, the former NASA chief historian and former curator at the National Air and Space Museum, agreed and said "there is no evidence to support the claim that he left a bracelet of his daughter on the moon."
Although apparently fiction, the moment is critical. Throughout the film, Armstrong, who died in 2012, is portrayed as an inflexible and staunch pilot who remains calm in all kinds of stressful situations, since his ship began to turn during the Gemini 8 mission to the tense landing in the surface of the ship. moon during the Apollo 11. It is sober and fresh throughout the film; Even when he is told that he has been selected to lead the mission of Apollo 11, he responds with little more than a gesture of assent.
The death of his daughter from a brain tumor, however, serves as an emotional hangover, a recurring theme in the film that reveals Armstrong's humanity. After his death, he has a vision of her playing at a party, and in a moment he slides his bracelet in a drawer.
Honoring his memory on the lunar surface would have been poetic, Hansen wrote: "What could have made the first landing on the moon more meaningful to all mankind?" A father who honored the precious memory of his beloved girl? -year old), one of his toys, an article of his clothes, a lock of hair?
Other Apollo astronauts paid homage to their families on the moon. Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon in 1972, wrote his daughter's initials in the moon dust before leaving. Buzz Aldrin took pictures of his children, and Charlie Duke left a picture of his family on the lunar surface.
While there is no evidence of this, it is possible that Armstrong has done something too, and that is why Hansen says he agrees with that in the film. "We do not know for sure what Neil did," he said in an interview. "Maybe that's a rationalization."
Still, he said the scene takes "a dramatic license, of course, and it's pretty big." But he said that the moment "plays very well in the film, and maybe it's the bottom line for the filmmaker … Sometimes the power of poetry prevails over the uncertainty of the fact."
A previous screenwriter also had a similar scene in his version of the script, he said. But instead of a bracelet, Armstrong took one of Karen's shoes to the moon.
Such a display of emotion, especially during an operational mission, could also have been out of place for a man Janet Armstrong said in the book, "may be thoughtful, but does not give much time to be thoughtful, or at least to express it" .
During the film, Armstrong sometimes looks with nostalgia at the moon. But during an interview in 2001, historian Douglas Brinkley asked if he would ever "just go quietly and look at the moon." Armstrong replied: "No, I never did that."
Former Apollo astronaut Al Worden, who served as the film's advisor, said in an interview that Chazelle, the director, was rigorous in making sure he understood all the technical details, from how the astronauts entered the spacecraft, up to the locations of the switches and buttons inside.
"He did everything possible to make it accurate," said Worden. "There's no doubt about that, he did an excellent job."
He said that Armstrong would "probably like" the film, even if he is portrayed "as a little more distant than he really was, I always found him very nice, cool and calm most of the time."
On the other hand, he was an engineer, dispassionate and fact-oriented. During the 2001 interview, Brinkley asked Armstrong what he thought of the movie "The Right Stuff," adapted from Tom Wolfe's book. Armstrong replied that he thought "it was a very good cinematographic performance".
But he criticized the freedoms that Hollywood took documenting the first days of the Space Age.
While it may have been entertaining, it was, he said, "a terrible story". The wrong people working on the wrong projects at the wrong times. It does not look like anything that was really happening. "
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