TIME

First Man tells the story of a hero you thought you knew

The moon and the home pulled Apollo astronauts in opposite directions. Armstrong (Gosling), with his wife and son in their Houston kitchen, suffered that more than most

NASA DIDN’T TALK MUCH ABOUT THE DAY IT nearly killed Neil Armstrong—and that was smart. It was just over a year before Armstrong was set to become the first man on the moon, in command of Apollo 11, and while he hadn’t been officially tapped for the gig yet, he was on the short list and everyone knew it. Worse, NASA already had recent blood on its hands, after the fire in the Apollo 1 spacecraft that killed three astronauts just the year before.

So things were kept relatively quiet on the May day in 1968, when Armstrong was flying a training mission in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV)—a four-legged machine about the size of a small truck meant to simulate the actual lunar module—and just 200 ft. aboveground, it started to spin out of control. Armstrong fought to stabilize it, had no luck and with two seconds to go before the LLRV crashed, he ejected, blasted away and descended by parachute—passing directly through the oily plume of black smoke the lander produced when it smashed into the Texas scrub.

As other Apollo astronauts recall it, Armstrong was back at his desk within the hour, wordlessly working on the accident report. As the scene is grippingly depicted in the new Armstrong biopic First Man—based on the book by James R. Hansen and directed by

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