In the scene the following happens:

Neil quickly learns about the failure of the test mission and that his friends died. He is asked to move away from the White House premises and into his hotel by someone over a phone call. He was holding a champagne glass before attending the phone call, and, after the phone call, he has crushed the glass and there was bleeding on his hands.

So what distressed him? Was it the political stress at the time - because three people died the Apollo missions might be entirely called off, and, his hopes of landing on the moon ended? Was it the news of his friends death? Was it against NASA that goofed up the test mission? Was it everything afore-mentioned?

1 Answer 1


The original script has a slightly different version of events. Neil learns about the accident and becomes irrationally violent, filled with "pain and rage".

It's pretty clear that this level of (over)reaction isn't simply fuelled by annoyance at the fact that this might have an impact on future missions. His good friends are dead. He's very upset about it.

NEIL (INTO PHONE): Yes. Okay. Thanks.

Neil hangs up. A beat. Neil sits, silent. Blank. He lifts the phone, as if to make a call... and holds the receiver, the dial tone PULSING, growing LOUDER, until... he SMASHES the receiver on the cradle.
And again.
Harder now. Until he’s smashing the receiver on the cradle with such FORCE... ...that the phone CRACKS... the nightstand BUCKLES.
And still he continues. Pain and rage pouring out...
He keeps POUNDING the phone...
UNTIL the nightstand SPLITS...
UNTIL his fingers, his hand starts to BLEED...
UNTIL at last he runs out of steam. And pauses. PANTING. His face contorted...
his eyes TICKING to his hand. BADLY MAULED, blood DRIPPING down the phone...
We hold on him for an awful beat and then we...


Neil's biography (based on interviews with the man himself) and which formed the basis of the earlier script, is very terse on what happened immediately after he took the call. Evidently his first thought was to reassure his wife that he was OK and then to speak to the other astronauts in the hotel.

When they entered their rooms at about 7:15 P.M., the astronauts saw the red message light on their telephones. The front desk relayed to Neil the urgent need to call the Manned Spacecraft Center. Dialing the number, he reached the Apollo program office. The man on the phone in Houston shouted to Neil, “The details are sketchy, but there was a fire on Pad 34 tonight. A bad fire. It is probable the crew did not survive.” The NASA employee then told Neil not to leave the hotel, in order to avoid the media.

The astronauts headed into the hallway to find out what the others had heard. The considerate hotel owner arranged for them to occupy a large suite near their rooms.

Before congregating in the suite, each astronaut tried to call home. Neil could not reach Janet. Astronaut Alan Bean had telephoned Janet shortly after the accident and told her to get over to the Whites’. Pat White was not home when Janet arrived; she was picking up her daughter Bonnie from ballet class. Janet was waiting near the Whites’ carport when mother, daughter, and son Eddie drove into the driveway. Janet “did not know anything when I went over there. I only knew there was a problem. When Pat and her children arrived, all I could say was ‘There’s been a problem. I don’t know what it is,’ and I didn’t.”

NASA sent over astronaut Bill Anders to tell Pat the horrible news. Janet recalled that a number of other friends arrived and they stayed until three A.M., comforting the distraught family members. Back in their suite, Neil and his fellow astronauts downed a bottle of scotch. Late into the night, they talked about what must have happened to cause such a disaster.

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

The director took the film in a slightly different direction than the script, choosing to portray Neil as angst-ridden and depressive, so who's to say what he was supposed to be thinking in this scene?

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