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The rarely heard story of Janet Armstrong, the woman behind the first man on the moon.

Universal Pictures International
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When you hear the name “Neil Armstrong” a dozen images and thoughts would immediately pop into your head.

It’s the legendary name of the first person to walk on the moon – an iconic American hero who left behind an everlasting historical legacy that has been captured a dozen times over within articles, books and films.

However, when you hear the name “Janet Armstrong” you could be forgiven for pausing to recall the woman who was married to pioneering astronaut. Thankfully, Janet’s name and journey are finally about to be given their overdue moment in the spotlight, thanks to Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle’s upcoming film First Man.

The movie, which promises to tell a visceral, first-person account of Armstrong’s story, is based on the book by James R Hansen and stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong. Along with following the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, First Man will also explore the sacrifices and the cost—to Armstrong, Janet, their family and the nation—of one of the most dangerous and awe-inspiring events  in history.

Unlike other films of this nature where the bulk of the storyline takes place in space with a sole focus on the actions of the astronauts, First Man will also give us an insight into the life of Janet, the fascinating female voice in this story.

As one of the unsung heroes of this moment in history, Janet’s story is one of resilience and grace in the face of an unimaginable family tragedy that changed her life forever.

Excitement around Janet’s story began when news broke that The Crown actress Claire Foy had been tapped to play the role of Janet Shearon Armstrong, Neil’s first wife. After all, if an actress of this calibre had signed onto the role, surely it was to be a character brimming with emotional depth, complexity and nuance.

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And once you really dive deep into the life of of Janet, you’ll see why her story is one worthy of being included in history.

Janet Shearon Armstrong passed away on June 21, 2018, at the age of 84, from lung cancer. In her obituary, published in the Houston Chronicle, she was remembered as a loving mother, grandmother, great grandmother, friend, and the wife of Neil Armstrong.

Claire Foy as Janet Shearon Armstrong. Source: Universal Pictures.

Even though Janet and Neil divorced in 1994, after 38 years of marriage, her name will forever be linked with his legacy and not just due to their marriage, her words and actions during those years are also factors that have cemented her place in history.

Right up until her death, Janet was an active and founding member of the KIT (Keep-In-Touch), a group of astronaut wives who met during the early days of space exploration via their husbands and remained close and supportive of each other to this day.

It appears that being a quiet yet inspiring leader in the community around her is what Janet was known for. Many journalists who chronicled Neil's life over time have stated that during her life she appeared to mirror the stoicism and strength of the spacemen around her, and then  inject those traits into her own life.

Although she was not someone who aspired to marry into a world so meticulously covered by the press or have her life on the public record, Janet was a realistic woman who saw Neil Armstrong first and foremost as a family man.

“I’m not married to ‘an astronaut,’” she told Life magazine in the months leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. “I’m married to Neil Armstrong. I knew he wanted to go to the moon, somehow, some way, when I married him.

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“Knowing this hasn’t changed my life. To me he will always be Neil Armstrong, husband, father of two boys.”

Janet Armstrong and Neil Armstrong. Source: Getty.

Although she never cashed in on the fame and intrigue that surrounded her life, thanks to her marriage to a famous man, there's no doubt that Janet's life was harder because of it.

Janet was at college majoring in home economics when she met Neil at a party and on January 28, 1956, they married at the Congregational Church in Wilmette, Illinois.

Although she was surely deeply in love at the time, the hardships within their marriage, due to his demanding career, started early.

When Neil moved to Edwards Air Force Base after their wedding he lived in the bachelor quarters of the base, while Janet lived in the Westwood district of Los Angeles and she never did finish her college degree, a fact she said regretted later in life.

Before that iconic moon landing mission, Janet is quoted as saying "Because I understand my husband's love for his work, I have never doubted his capabilities nor feared his flights."

Janet and Neil were parents to three children: Eric, Karen and Mark.

It was as a mother where Janet would face her greatest hardship, one that she and her husband tried to keep from the eyes of the public in some respects.

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In June 1961 their daughter Karen was diagnosed with a malignant tumour of the middle part of her brain stem, and while X-ray treatment slowed its growth, her health deteriorated to the point where she could no longer walk or talk.

Little Karen, who was just two years old when she passed away, was given the nickname ‘Muffy’ by her loving parents as it was “an endearing form of Muffin”, according to James Hansen in his acclaimed biography First Man.

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy as Janet Shearon Armstrong. Source: Universal Pictures.

After deep-diving into Janet's life, in preparation for her role in First Man, it appears actress Claire Foy now has an unparalleled understanding of the strength of the woman who sometimes stood back in the shadows.

"Janet didn’t ask to be the poster girl for American wives. She didn’t know that by marrying a fighter pilot she’d suddenly be on the front cover of Time magazine," the actress told Vulture. "There’s a scene where she really gives it to NASA. She says, 'You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re going to the moon, which is the most important thing in the world. But he’s my husband, the father to my children. Has that ever entered your mind?' But Janet knew who she was and what was happening. She had such a backbone of steel."

First Man is sure to tell a tale of great heroism and strength, but this time around Janet's story will finally be told alongside Neil's.

First Man will be showing in cinemas across Australia from October 11.

Universal Pictures International

See the film critics are calling “turbulently spectacular” and “visually ravishing”
First Man, starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy. Directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, Lala Land)
See it on the big screen from October 11

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