1961 - Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is piloting an X-15 craft heading above the planet's atmosphere. He reaches over 140,000 feet and gets a good look at Earth from high up. Neil starts to descend, but the craft starts ballooning and goes to an even higher altitude. He manages to make it back down and land in the Mojave Desert, but his superiors want to keep Neil grounded as a result.
At home, Neil and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) are struggling as their young daughter Karen (Lucy Stafford) is suffering from a tumor. Neil's fellow pilot Joseph A. Walker (Brian d'Arcy James) tells him that NASA is looking for pilot for their Project Gemini, but Neil says he will look into it after Karen gets better. However, after numerous treatments, Karen passes away, leaving the Armstrongs devastated. Neil returns to work almost immediately after the funeral, and he learns that he is being grounded for now, being made to write a pilot's report on his last flight.
Roughly a year later, Neil applies to join NASA's team of pilots where he meets and befriends Elliot See (Patrick Fugit). Neil meets with director Robert R. Gilruth (Ciaran Hinds) and astronaut Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler), among other men, to interview for candidates for their impending space exploration program. Neil expresses an interest in exploring beyond Earth based on his experiences with the X-15 crafts. One man asks whether Neil thinks the passing of his daughter may affect his work, and he says it might. Not long after, Neil gets a call during dinner and he tells Janet that he has been selected.
NASA is eager to reach the moon since the Soviets are quickly beating them with their own space program and Sputnik satellites, so they hope that their program can manage to beat them to the moon. While Neil is being told what to expect and how the mission is supposed to work, Janet meets her neighbor Pat White (Olivia Hamilton), whose husband Ed (Jason Clarke) is in the same program as Neil. Pat brings Janet a plate of cookies as a welcome to the neighborhood. It's also shown that Janet is pregnant with their third child (they still have their older son Rick). Slayton tells the pilots that the plan is to get their Gemini craft to dock with their Agena target vehicle without either of them colliding.
The pilots start by operating the Multi-Axis Trainer simulator. Neil starts and passes out at first, but he regains consciousness and asks to start up again. This makes him rush to the bathroom to puke. Ed soon follows after.
Neil and Janet's son Mark is later born. As the baby sleeps in his crib, Neil and Janet share a dance together.
The Armstrongs start to bond with the Whites, as well as Elliot and his wife. After a dinner, they watch the news to see that the Soviets have accomplished an extravehicular activity test, something that Ed was supposed to have done with Gemini 4. This leaves him upset.
1965 - Neil is set to co-pilot Gemini 8 with David Scott (Christopher Abbott), with Slayton telling Neil that once the Agena is back up and running, he may be the first to dock. Prior to the mission, the Armstrongs host a good luck party for Neil.
1966 - Ed shows up at the Armstrong house in the pouring rain to tell Neil that Elliot has died in an accident where his trainer jet crashed into a space center in St. Louis. Neil is clearly broken up over the news. After Elliot's funeral, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (Corey Stoll) makes comments regarding the circumstances of Elliot's death that puts off the other men in the room.
On March 16, 1966, Neil and David board Gemini 8 for the launch, while Janet stands by at home waiting to hear on any updates from the squawk box. The two make it into the air and into space with an initially smooth start, but before they can dock with the Agena, they encounter a malfunction within the craft. Janet even goes to find Slayton to criticize him and the other men for putting the pilots in unsafe crafts. Neil and David manage to abort their mission and return to Earth safely, but the mission's failure does take a toll on Neil.
Later on, Ed visits Neil to tell him that Slayton has asked Ed to be part of the Apollo 1 mission to the moon with Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham) and Roger B. Chaffee (Corey Michael Smith). Neil is later asked by Slayton and Gilruth to represent them at the White House.
On January 27, 1967, Ed, Gus, and Roger are gathered for a prelaunch test while Neil is at the White House. A faulty wire creates a spark inside the craft, which quickly starts a rapidly expanding fire that causes an explosion, killing all three men. Neil gets a call from Slayton to inform him of the news.
1968 - Neil is flying a craft over a field, but he loses control of it and must eject himself before the craft crashes and explodes. He meets with Slayton and Gilruth over this, but Neil wants to keep going with tests so that they don't fail out in space. Meanwhile, Janet goes over to Pat's house to try to console her.
Word about NASA's Apollo mission to the moon gets around the country, with the reaction appearing to be strongly mixed. Some are in favor of the voyage, while others are critical of the government putting money toward this venture when there are other pressing matters at hand.
1969 - NASA launches Apollo 10, which makes a successful dock, and the hopes for the moon landing grows stronger. Neil soon becomes selected along with Buzz and Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) to be part of the Apollo 11 crew. The three go to a press conference to answer reporter questions on the impending mission. At home, Neil is preparing to pack his things to head out, but there is clear tension among his family. Mark hugs his father goodbye, but Rick can only shake his hand. Janet angrily chastises Neil for wanting to go through with the mission when he knows there's a possibility that he may not come back alive, and she can't bear to think of their sons growing up without a father. Neil later departs from his family to head out for the mission.
On July 16, Neil, Buzz, and Michael board Apollo 11 as they prepare for their mission. They launch into space and successfully dock with the Agena. Four days later, the men make it to the moon and make their now historic descent. Neil becomes the first man to set foot on the moon, and he makes his "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" statement. Buzz soon follows. Neil walks across the moon's surface and starts to think about his family, especially Karen. He is even holding her bracelet.
Upon returning to Earth, the men are seen as national heroes, with word of the mission's success becoming worldwide news. Janet later goes to see Neil. Without a word, they touch hands with a window between them.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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The film retells Neil Armstrong's journey to the moon from his beginnings as a test pilot, all the way up to his selection for Apollo 11.
Neil and his wife Janet lose their daughter Karen early on. About a year later, Neil applies for NASA and is selected as a candidate for their Project Gemini, which is set to lead into the mission to reach the moon. NASA wants to beat the Soviets since they have succeeded in other space missions ahead of them.
Neil loses some of his friends and coworkers, including Ed White and Elliot See, as a result of failed tests that proved fatal. Even with this knowledge, he still chooses to go through with the moon mission, which angers Janet because they both know that he is risking his life and potentially leaving their sons behind without a father.
In July 1969, Neil joins Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the Apollo 11 trip to the moon. After four days, the men make it there successfully, and they are seen as national heroes just having made history. Janet later reunites with Neil after he returns home.
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