Near the end of the film, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) has a solitary moment on the edge of Little West crater. He drops a beaded name bracelet into the moon dust. That bracelet belonged to his daughter Karen, who was only 2 when brain cancer unexpectedly took her. Did Armstrong’s grief really follow him to the moon?
The Hollywood version of Armstrong hints that he was overshadowed by the death of his daughter even when he took that one small step for man that turned into a giant leap for mankind. The real astronaut never spoke of it, even to his own family. Mementos meant to be left on the moon were allowed on the Apollo 11 mission, but neither Armstrong’s wife, sons, or sister ever knew for sure that something in remembrance of Karen flew out of the atmosphere with him.
Speculation about what may or may not still be hidden in Little West Crater comes from the closest thing we have to evidence. Toward the end of the historic moonwalk that catapulted him and Buzz Aldrin to astronomical levels of fame, Armstrong did wander off on an unplanned trip during which he stayed out of touch with Aldrin and Mission Control.
What is known to the entire planet by now is that he took nine photographs of the crater that will forever be in NASA’s archives. What remains unknown is whether he did anything else.
Armstrong never admitted to going any further than taking those images, something he insisted when interviewed by historian James Hansen for First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the 2005 authorized biography that would eventually land in theaters.
"It was the few lines in Jim's book where he asks June, Neil's sister, whether she thought that he might have brought something of Karen's to the moon that triggered the idea," director Damien Chazelle told collectSPACE.com.
While Armstrong and Aldrin did leave behind a mission patch in memory of the Apollo 1 crew who perished in a fire, a few medallions to honor fallen Soviet cosmonauts, a gold olive branch, and a silicon disc that world leaders had etched with altruistic messages, if the painfully private Armstrong did leave behind something that belonged to Karen, he told no one.
Armstrong’s secret died with him. Though he never admitted to leaving behind something so personal, a future rover or astronaut could possibly head out past Tranquility Base to Little West Crater and, somewhere in the regolith, find something extraordinary.