"First Man," the new Hollywood film about Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong, hits theaters across the nation Friday (Oct. 12). Imax viewers will get a special treat: an accompanying IMAX featurette, in which astronauts recall what Apollo 11 and spaceflight in general mean to them today.
"NASA's motto should be, 'Making even impossible things look easy,' and Apollo 11 was just one of those very first points where we proved it's not impossible," former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson says in the featurette, which is also on YouTube. Whitson holds the U.S. record for most total days spent in space (665), and she was the first woman to command the International Space Station (ISS). [Photos: Neil Armstrong, an American Icon]
Apollo 11 launched in July 1969, back when it was difficult to fit computers into a single room. The mission flew Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin down to the moon's surface, while crewmate Michael Collins waited above in lunar orbit.
The iconic touchdown was pretty dramatic. Armstrong had to take the lunar lander off autopilot to steer away from a boulder-strewn area; he brought the lander, called the Eagle, safely down in the Sea of Tranquility with just a few seconds' worth of fuel left..
Five additional human landings followed in the footsteps of Apollo 11 between 1969 and 1972: Apollo 12 and Apollos 14 through 17. Apollo 13 was supposed to reach the lunar surface as well, but that mission suffered a failure that forced the crew to return to Earth.
After the end of Apollo, NASA shifted its human-spaceflight focus to Earth orbit, specifically, space shuttle and ISS missions. But the agency is now working to get people back to the moon in the 2020s.
"There's nothing that beats the moon landing. The moon landing is the greatest accomplishment. It's the gold standard for doing something incredibly hard," Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut with two space missions under his belt, says in the new featurette.
"We all wanted to know what it was like to go to the moon," adds former astronaut Scott Kelly, whose final space mission entailed spending nearly a year aboard the ISS. "We're explorers. I think it's in our DNA."
"First Man" is based on the 2005 authorized biography of Neil Armstrong by former NASA historian James Hansen. Armstrong flew twice in space and left NASA in 1971; he died in 2012 of complications from heart surgery. Armstrong is portrayed in the movie by Ryan Gosling, who starred in another film with space undertones, 2017's "Blade Runner 2049."
The lunar sequences in "First Man" were filmed with Imax cameras.