Marking the forty-fifth anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing, First Man by James Hansen offers the only authorized glimpse into the life of America’s most famous astronaut, Neil Armstrong—the man whose “one small step” changed history.
“The Eagle has landed.”
When Apollo 11 touched down on the moon’s surface in 1969, the first man on the moon became a legend. In First Man, Hansen explores the life of Neil Armstrong. Based on over fifty hours of interviews with the intensely private Armstrong, who also gave Hansen exclusive access to private documents and family sources, this “magnificent panorama of the second half of the American twentieth century” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) is an unparalleled biography of an American icon.
Upon his return to earth, Armstrong was honored and celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also—as James R. Hansen reveals in this fascinating and important biography—misunderstood. Armstrong’s accomplishments as engineer, test pilot, and astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen’s unprecedented access to private documents and unpublished sources and his interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours with Armstrong himself) yield this first in-depth analysis of an elusive American celebrity still renowned the world over.
In a riveting narrative filled with revelations, Hansen vividly recreates Armstrong’s career in flying, from his seventy-eight combat missions as a naval aviator flying over North Korea to his formative transatmospheric flights in the rocket-powered X-15 to his piloting Gemini VIII to the first-ever docking in space. These milestones made it seem, as Armstrong’s mother Viola memorably put it, “as if from the very moment he was born—farther back still—that our son was somehow destined for the Apollo 11 mission.”
For a pilot who cared more about flying to the Moon than he did about walking on it, Hansen asserts, Armstrong’s storied vocation exacted a dear personal toll, paid in kind by his wife and children. For the forty-five years since the Moon landing, rumors have swirled around Armstrong concerning his dreams of space travel, his religious beliefs, and his private life.
In a penetrating exploration of American hero worship, Hansen addresses the complex legacy of the First Man, as an astronaut and as an individual. In First Man, the personal, technological, epic, and iconic blend to form the portrait of a great but reluctant hero who will forever be known as history’s most famous space traveler.
James R. Hansen is a professor emeritus of history at Auburn University. A former historian for NASA, Hansen is the author of twelve books on the history of aerospace and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in History. His 1995 book Spaceflight Revolution was nominated for the Pulitzer by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the only time NASA ever nominated a book for the prize. He serves as coproducer for the upcoming major motion picture First Man, which is based on his New York Times bestselling biography of Neil Armstrong. Hansen lives in Auburn, Alabama.
"To understand Armstrong on his own terms is to see a large truth of our time . . . [Hansen’s] mastery of detail is put to splendid use. The narrative of the moon mission is crisp and dramatic, the science clear. He deftly takes us back into those few days of global fascination with the adventure of the three distant voyagers and the tense uncertainty about how it would turn out. . . . I finished Hansen’s Apollo story with a wholly fresh sense of awe at the magnitude of NASA’s achievement . . . a compelling and nuanced portrait of the astronaut."
– James Tobin, Chicago Tribune
“Neil Armstrong—naval aviator, research pilot, astronaut, American hero and larger-than-life icon. He may have thought it was ‘one small step for [a] man,’ but it was one giant leap for the rest of us . . . First Man is primed to be one of the definitive reference works on the lunar program.”
– U.S. Navy Captain William Readdy, Aviation Week & Space Technology
“Most of the astronauts’ books are about the adventure. Jim Hansen’s wellresearched and documented book is about the adventurer. First Man is a compelling story of a modern-day Columbus which provides the rare opportunity to understand the personal qualities driving explorers. Quiet, complex, and deep, Armstrong, as fuel was running out, was the right man at the right time to take America and the world to the surface of the moon.”
– Eugene F. Kranz, author of Failure Is Not an Option
“A powerful, unrelenting biography of a man who stands as a living testimony to everyday grit and determination . . . A must for astronaut buffs and history readers alike.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A great read.”
– The Kansas City Star
“Ever since Apollo 11’s ‘one giant leap for mankind’ in 1969 the world has wondered who Neil Armstrong really is. Now, at last, Jim Hansen has stripped away the myths and mysteries to bring us face to face with the man himself. This definitive portrait offers many new and fascinating details about Armstrong and his life and about the momentous and unforgettable era of exploration in which he was lucky enough—and talented enough—to play a key role.”