Neil Armstrong’s Sons: What Happened to Mark & Rick?

neil armstrong sons

Getty Rick Armstrong (l) and Mark Armstrong (r) are the sons of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

neil armstrong sons

Rick Armstrong (l) and Mark Armstrong (r) are the sons of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Neil Armstrong’s sons are prominently featured in the Hollywood movie, First Man, which is about the astronaut’s trip to the moon but is also about the reclusive and sometimes inscrutable man in private.

The movie shows Armstrong playing with his two sons, Mark and Rick Armstrong, when he’s not away from home performing dangerous tasks for NASA. Warning: There are some spoilers in this article because real life closely follows the movie.

In one dramatic scene in the movie – which perhaps stands as emblematic of the emotional center of Neil Armstrong’s journey on earth – his wife, Janet, confronts him about his refusal to sit down with the boys and tell them the truth: That there was a chance he would never come home. In the movie, Neil Armstrong eventually sits down with the children, ending the conversation with a hug and a handshake. (The couple’s only daughter, Karen, died of a brain tumor as a toddler before her father’s famous moon walk – in real life, as well as in the movie.) Rick and Mark were ages 12 and 6 when their dad walked on the moon.

neil armstrong

One of the few photographs of Neil Armstrong on the moon shows him working on his space craft on the lunar surface.

However, is the movie true? Did Neil Armstrong really sit down with the boys that way? What happened to Mark and Rick Armstrong, and where are they today?

July 20, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon. According to Fox News, “just 10 more NASA astronauts would follow in their footsteps by walking on the lunar surface. The last human to set foot on the Moon was Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan on Dec. 14, 1972.”

Here’s what you need to know:


Mark Armstrong Believes the Movie Captures His Dad’s Personality

neil armstrong

GettyAstronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11.

The movie First Man was based on a biography of Neil Armstrong, with which he cooperated. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that his sons think the movie stayed true to the real Armstrong, who died in 2012 after complications from heart surgery.

Mark Armstrong gave an interview about the movie to Universe Today. “First Man really captures Dad’s personality,” said Mark, “but more than that, it captures the personality of both our parents. It was really important for us from the beginning that the filmmakers tell the story the way we remembered it and the way it really happened.” (The brothers’ mother, Janet, died in 2018; she and Neil Armstrong eventually divorced after 38 years of marriage, and he remarried. You can read more about Janet Armstrong here.)

neil armstrong

12th November 1969: Neil Armstrong.

You can read the Universe Today interview by Nancy Atkinson in full here.

Both of Neil Armstrong’s sons were consultants on the movie.

“The fact that they wanted to try to make as accurate a movie as possible was a good thing,” Rick said to Universe Today. “So, we wanted to make sure they had all the information they could get to be able to do that.”

Mark Armstrong, now 55, told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to make sure that Ryan Gosling, who played his dad, was really committed to the role. “I know he has the capability, because Ryan doesn’t have to work if he doesn’t want to,” Mark told The Times. “But did he really want to dig deep?”

astronauts

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has named these three astronauts as the prime crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. Left to right, are Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot.

When the brothers sat down with Gosling, he impressed them with his detailed questions, according to The Times, which added that the brothers eventually became so involved in the movie that they used red notes to indicate elements of the initial script that they didn’t want to go forward.


The Scene Where Neil Armstrong Tells His Sons He Might Not Make It Home Actually Happened

janet armstrong

GettyNeil Armstrong, wife Janet and their sons.

Rick Armstrong told Universe Today that the major scene in First Man, where his dad tells the boys he might not return from the moon trip alive, actually happened, although some of the nuances of it vary.

“That scene came from us,” said Rick to the site, adding that he remembers the actual scene happening similarly to the movie. “…Dad said that he was confident in the spacecraft, but he thought there was only about 50-50 chance of landing on the moon. But that didn’t mean that he thought there was a 50-50 chance of them coming back, and he conveyed that to us in that talk we had in the dining room.”

neil armstrong

GettyAstronaut Neil Armstrong smiles inside the Lunar Module July 20, 1969.

Rick and Mark recently decided to auction off 3,000 pieces of their dad’s belongings, including medallions and flags, according to the New York Times. In an interview with the Times, Rick said the boys, when they were young, weren’t quite aware of the importance – and dangers – of their father’s undertakings.

“We didn’t understand the risk,” Rick said to The Times. “We didn’t understand the complexity of what they were trying to do.”

Mark told the newspaper, “We were sheltered. We were never worried about whether dad would come back or not. He was just on a flight. It might as well have been an airplane, a business trip. A business trip to the moon. It really was like that.”

neil armstrong

GettyApollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong (L) and Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan (R) listen as Apollo 11 crewmember Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin (C) answers questions from the media 16 July 1999 in a replica of the Apollo/Saturn 5 launch control room at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

According to the Times, as adults, Rick “studied biology and became an animal trainer” and then joined his brother working at a software company.


Neil Armstrong’s Sons Defended the Controversial Decision to Leave the American Flag Out of the Moon Scenes

buzz aldrin

US astronaut Edwin Aldrin stands on the moon 16 July 1969 beside the deployed flag of the United States during the Apollo 11 mission.

Controversy has surrounded the movie because it leaves out the iconic American flag planting by Armstrong on the moon. Some see that as erasing history. However, Neil Armstrong’s sons have defended that decision.

They said in a statement: “Although Neil didn’t see himself that way, he was an American hero. He was also an engineer and a pilot, a father and a friend, a man who suffered privately through great tragedies with incredible grace. This is why, though there are numerous shots of the American flag on the moon, the filmmakers chose to focus on Neil looking back at the earth, his walk to Little West Crater, his unique, personal experience of completing this journey, a journey that has seen so many incredible highs and devastating lows.”


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