First Man: How Astronaut Alfred Worden Helped Make The Film Realistic

Alfred Worden, who spent over three days alone in a command module circling the moon, served as a technical consultant for First Man.

Accuracy was essential to the filmmakers of First Man, and one of the reasons the film has been met with so much critical acclaim. To create the realism seen in the spaceflight portions of the film, the moviemakers relied on experts, such as former astronaut Alfred Worden who served as a technical consultant. Worden was the command module pilot for Apollo 15, and his work on the mission garnered him two Guinness World Records, including one for being “the most isolated that any human has been.”

Worden was not at work when the famous Apollo 11 mission was underway. He was in California preparing for a flight of his own. However, this time, he was not flying to space.

“As a matter of fact, I was heading back home,” Worden recently told Den of Geek. “I was sitting in my airplane at the airport, getting my flight plan to go back home, and Ground Control called me and said, ‘Hey, we know who you are and where you’re going, and Apollo 11 is about to land on the moon. We’ve got the air-ground conversation going on. Would you like us to pipe it in so you can hear it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely, hold my fight plan.’ So, I sat there in the airplane and listened to them make their landing.”

Two years later Worden made his trip to the moon on Apollo 15. The mission broke several records and was hailed by NASA as its most successful mission at the time. Although Worden took a trip to the moon, he never set foot on its surface. He was the command module pilot, which is the only crewmember to stay behind as the others head to the surface.

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However, Worden had no problem being alone. In an interview with the BBC in 2014, he said he thoroughly enjoyed it. He got used to flying alone as a fighter pilot.

He said it was much harder being cooped up in the module with two other guys.

“It is pretty small,” Wordon explained. “It’s about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. If you want to get a kick, get two guys, two friends, and get in a Volkswagen Beetle and live there for two weeks. I think you’d find very quickly that it’s something that you have to get over, and all the training that we went through did that for us. We were very ready for that close environment that we were in during the two weeks of flight.”

During his time alone in the module, Worden was as far as 2,235 miles away from his crewmates on the surface. That is according to his Guinness World Record certificate for being “the most isolated that any human has been from another person.”

That wasn’t the only Guinness World Record he won for that trip. The second was for “the first spacewalk in deep space.” Worden was the first to perform a spacewalk outside of low earth orbit.

Despite having achieved these milestones in human achievement, Worden is humble about his accomplishments. He says he is no Neil Armstrong. While being humble himself, Worden also says humility was a virtue he admired in Armstrong. Armstrong’s humility is a prominent characteristic portrayed in the movie.

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“He didn’t go out looking for publicity,” says Worden. “He didn’t market himself. He was so iconic. He followed what Charles Lindbergh had advised him. He stayed out of the limelight, but he did major appearances and talks where they were important.”

further reading: Making the Moon Sing for First Man

A proud moment for Worden was during a 40th-anniversary event for Apollo 11 when Armstrong talked about Worden’s work as a command module pilot.

“His talk was all about me as a command module pilot because he realized that command module pilots did most of the flying and were responsible for staying in orbit while they were on the surface,” says Worden. “He appreciated the value of that to the flight. Comparing, of course, to what Mike Collins [command module pilot for Apollo 11] did on 11. Neil was a good friend.”

Worden’s experience with the Apollo program made him a perfect technical consultant for First Man.

“When you convert a book to a movie, there are a lot of things in the movie that never show up in the book,” Worden explained. “For instance, when the crew gets in the clean room, and they’re getting inserted into the spacecraft, the book never describes the clean room or the spacecraft or how they get in or anything like that.”

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Worden says he helped the filmmakers on details such as how to strap into seatbelts, attach oxygen hoses, and get the communications right, among other things.

“My part was helping the film crew understand what goes on during a launch like that or even what goes on during flight,” says Worden.

Fortunately, Worden feels his work on the film paid off, and he likes the results. Worden says the film’s accuracy was his favorite part. However, it wasn’t the technical accuracy which impressed him the most.

“What I liked about this movie that you don’t see in other movies is the personal side of the space program,” explained Worden. “It takes Neil Armstrong from before he gets in the program — he’s flying X-15s out in California — then he gets in the program, and he flies Gemini. Then when he gets assigned to an Apollo flight, he flies the Lunar landing training vehicle in which he had to parachute out of, on up to Apollo 11. That’s something that none of the other movies have done is show the personal side of what it takes to make a flight; to get ready for a flight, all the training and all the steps you go through before you finally get assigned to a flight like Apollo 11, which Neil did. That’s the part of the movie that I think is really good.”

and our interviews with the film’s cinematographer and composer, and screenwriter Josh Singer.

Alejandro Rojas writes and blogs about science, entertainment, and the paranormal. Alejandro has spent many hours in the field investigating anomalous phenomena up close and personal. You can find him on Twitter here.

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