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Moon NASA Space Science

Origin of Neil Armstrong's 'One Small Step' Line Revealed 149

Posted by timothy
from the too-bad-it-wasn't-mysterious-charades dept.
SchrodingerZ writes "In an upcoming BBC Documentary, Dean Armstrong, the brother of astronaut Neil Armstrong, reveals when the world famous 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' line originated. For years, people have argued over when Armstrong came up with the line, whether it was on the spot or planned years ahead. Also debated is whether Armstrong meant to include 'a' before man, making the indefinite article 'man,' which alludes to mankind, into a singular, 'a man,' himself. According to Dean Armstrong, the quote was shared to him over a board game, months before the mission began. He says, 'We started playing Risk and then he [Neil] slipped me a piece of paper and said "read that." I did. On that piece of paper there was "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He says "what do you think about that?" I said "fabulous." He said "I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it." He then added: "It was 'that is one small step for A man.'"' Armstrong had always insisted that he had said 'a,' that it was lost in communication static. This new story however conflicts with what Neil told James Hansen for his biography, stating he came up with the quote on the lunar surface. More on the historic moon landing and the life of Neil Armstrong in the new documentary Neil Armstrong- First Man on the Moon, on BBC."
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Origin of Neil Armstrong's 'One Small Step' Line Revealed

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    regardless of what he had in mind, it makes no sense, so can we just edit in the "a" and it will be a great quote.

  • Doesn't matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsam (12205) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:40PM (#42430543) Homepage

    Having watched and heard this moment in history more times than I can remember, playing it over in my mind, I do think there's a slight "hiccup" in the audio, but I'm not sure if it's long enough for a dropped "a".

    But it doesn't really matter. "a" or no "a". It was a moment in history that will never be repeated, or surpassed, ever again. What Buzz Aldrin, Neal Armstrong, and Michael Collins (in alphabetical order) have accomplished stands on its own merits. It is no more and no less of an accomplishment no matter what he actually said, or didn't say.

    • This is one of those moments you imagine coming up in conversation many times, in which you have been working on a zinger for quite some time. It is a lot of rehearsal and a little part of the moment
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Some audio experts claim there is an "a", or at least a plausible gap. I've read a couple of articles about that topic. It will probably be debated forever, like the JFK assassination.

      Here's one such reference Wikipedia gives:

      Goddard, Jacqui (October 2, 2006). "One small word is one giant sigh of relief for Armstrong". The Times (London). Retrieved August 28, 2007. [link is broken]

      • [not any more]

      • Re:Doesn't matter (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SternisheFan (2529412) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:03AM (#42431581)
        The man has said publicly that he said "a man". That's it. He's a man of honor, and insisting on proof is demeaning. Why does this even have to be argued? Does a man's word mean so little anymore? Move on, people.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @08:13AM (#42431963)

          Does man's word mean so little anymore?

          FTFY

        • by Flentil (765056)
          It matters because one brother is clearly lying. Neil insists that he thought of the phrase spontaneously on the moon and that he was humble and said "for a man", but his brother says he's lying on both counts, that he had the phrase pre-planned months earlier, and didn't intend it to be quite as humble. So there is meaning here. Either the brother is lying, or Neil was more dishonest than he'd have us believe.
          • I see, I'd not heard of the 'brother' angle, interesting. I had heard that, of course the speech was reheased/memorized.
            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              You hadn't heard of the brother angle? You win five (5) internets for responding to an article without reading the summary.

      • The g is also missing from giant, but nobody claims he said "one eye ant leap."
    • Yabba Dabba Doo! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My 6 year old son was asked what the first moon lander's famous words were, and he said "yabba dabba doo". I laughed but then thought, that was almost certainly much closer to what Armstrong was probably thinking, despite what he said.

      • Now to build a time machine and switch myself with him just to say yabba...dabba...doo.

        • by Strider- (39683)

          Now to build a time machine and switch myself with him just to say yabba...dabba...doo.

          Much better would be to shout "Oh my God, what's that?!" and then cut the mic. ;)

    • by baegucb (18706) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:40AM (#42431221)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11_in_popular_culture#Movies_and_television [wikipedia.org] says
      Portions of the Apollo 11 mission are dramatized in the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon episode entitled "Mare Tranquilitatis". In that episode, Michael Collins made the following suggestion as to what Armstrong should say upon stepping onto the lunar surface: "If you had any balls, you'd say 'Oh, my God, what is that thing?' then scream and cut your mic."

      Now that would have been epic :)

      • by oobayly (1056050)

        According to Arthur C Clarke in the foreword to 2001, they told him that they wanted to "report that they'd found a black monolith, alas discretion prevailed"

      • Re:Doesn't matter (Score:5, Interesting)

        by skine (1524819) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:55AM (#42431755)

        It's actually not that unheard of for astronauts to play pranks in space. For example:

        Having successfully completed the first ever two-space vehicle rendezvous in orbit with Frank Borman and James Lovell, Jr. in Gemini 7, Schirra and Stafford were understandably in high spirits before they began their atmospheric reentry maneuvers.

        But, before beginning their journey home, NASA received a report from the pair saying they had spotted a UFO. According to Schirra's memoirs "Schirra's Space," Stafford contacted Mission Control and said: "We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit.... Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon.... You just might let me pick up that thing.... I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit."

        Before Mission Control had time to digest the "UFO sighting," they heard an extraterrestrial rendition of "Jingle Bells" coming from Gemini 6. Schirra and Stafford had smuggled a harmonica and miniature sleigh bells onto the spacecraft especially for this moment.

        http://news.discovery.com/space/big-pic-jingle-bells-first-space-music.html [discovery.com]

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          But, before beginning their journey home, NASA received a report from the pair saying they had spotted a UFO.

          And of course, the UFO conspiracy theorists have taken this report seriously ever since.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      It doesn't make much sense without the "a". "Man" and "mankind" mean the same thing in that context, but pointing out that it was only a single step from the base of the lander leg onto the surface that represented a huge moment in human history is quite apt.

    • It is on the symbolic action layer, it does not really matter what Neil Armstrong said. In particular as the story is wrong. Fritz Lang's team was first and stumm [youtube.com].
    • could send a guy named "Buzz" to the moon. America, F**k Yeah!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:41PM (#42430553)

    to lip sync with the footage they got from New Mexico?

  • by Fnordulicious (85996) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:44PM (#42430573) Homepage

    Language Log has discussed this a number of times [upenn.edu].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Did he also remember to ask Mr. Gorsky about the second line he planned to say?

    • No, sadly there was no Mr Gorsky.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In the snopes article on this subject, I like the line at the bottom about "good luck Mr Hubble"

  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:47PM (#42430587)
    Why argue about whether he thought of it spontaneously on the moon or had thought of it or considered it before he took that first step. It's the fact that he said it ON THE MOON that is the good and important part. Personally, I believe that he probably did plan ahead and think about what he might say when he landed. Thus he most certainly did think of that phrase ahead of time (in my humble opinion). And who amongst us has not tried to get a little more glory by saying yeah I just thought of that spontaneously when we might have come up with the retort earlier. Certainly Armstrong does not NEED to be cooler or thought of as more: he walked on the moon. So who cares about whether that line was a spontaneous utterance or a well planned entrance line?
    .
    :>)
    Neil Armstrong, my here. I would love to fly there someday and see those footsteps in the lunar dust, if the micrometeroids have not destroyed it. They'll probably put up a velvet rope around it to keep us tourist riff-raff away. If only. I wish. I truly wish. [Fly me to the moon!!! ;>) ]
    • "my hero" is what I meant to say. I missed my typo when I previewed it. Saaahrry /. !
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        You use the preview button?! That already puts you way aheed of 99% of Slashdotr posters, myself included,

        • I started using the preview button after I once forgot to put the closing </b> to go with the corresponding <b> html entity. Then the rest of my entire entry ended up being bold, when I only meant for the phrase "rest of my entire entry" to be bold. In this case here, I'm doing it on purpose (leaving off the closing <b>).
  • The missing "A" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ozoner (1406169) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:13AM (#42430655)

    The missing "A" was not caused by static, but by the way that the VOX (Voice Operated Switch) operated.

    The Sensitivity of the VOX is quite critical. If it's too sensitive, everybody gets to hear background noises like breaths and grunts. To work properly the VOX needs to be set quite "tight". If you listen to any of the recordings you can hear how the first syllable is always clipped. If the first word is a short sound, it will likely be cut completely.

    In noisy conditions, most operators develop the habit of starting a sentence with a short "Ah". The "Ah" isn't transmitted, it just serves to open the mute.
    Ask any Ham Radio Operator about setting up a VOX.

    • by fufufang (2603203)

      So what VOX switched off before he said "a"?

      I think these days they should build a buffer circuit, and make everything delay for a few milliseconds, detect the voice, so the operators don't need to say "Ah".

      • by Ozoner (1406169)

        > So what VOX switched off before he said "a"?

        The VOX is normally closed. When you start speaking in opens (after a pause), then closes again when you stop talking.

        > I think these days they should build a buffer circuit, and make everything delay for a few milliseconds, detect the voice, so the operators don't need to say "Ah".

        How would that help? Noise would still trigger the buffer circuit.

        Engage brain before putting mouth in gear.

        • by Ozoner (1406169)

          > So what VOX switched off before he said "a"?

          The VOX in the astronauts suit transmitter

        • by fufufang (2603203)

          How would that help? Noise would still trigger the buffer circuit.

          You get another circuit running, detecting whether the sound in the buffer has reached the trigger level. If it has, then send everything in the buffer, until it drop back down below the threshold. Otherwise don't send anything. How about that?

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            You get another circuit running, detecting whether the sound in the buffer has reached the trigger level. If it has, then send everything in the buffer, until it drop back down below the threshold. Otherwise don't send anything. How about that?

            An audio buffer in a space suit in 1969? Really?

            You are just proving how fantastically ignorant you are.

            • by fufufang (2603203)

              By "these days", I meant today, as in if I was designing a new one today. The GP said

              Ask any Ham Radio Operator about setting up a VOX..

              I will try to be more literate on Slashdot in the future.

    • Re:The missing "A" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@NOspAm.world3.net> on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:31AM (#42431669) Homepage

      The problem with that theory is there was no pause or gap between "for" and "man". If it was swallowed by VOX or static the space would still be there.

      The guy fluffed his line, hardly something to be ashamed of when you are just about to be the first man in history to set foot on another planet and there is still a very slight worry you will just sink into the dust, and even if somehow you don't the spacesuit might fail, or the lift-off motor might not fire, or any number of other things might go wrong. Armstrong was human, after all, which is kind of the point since robots had been there before.

    • Actually, the missing "a" was inadvertently dropped when the Doctor spliced in the "You should kill us all on sight" bit.
    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      So if vox gated off when he said "a" in "a man", why isn't there a gap in the transmission about the length of the missing "a"? Also "a" is a nice loud vowel, which will trip the vox quite easily.

      The vox gating off idea doesn't hold water.

    • by fufufang (2603203)

      The missing "A" was not caused by static, but by the way that the VOX (Voice Operated Switch) operated.

      I really don't think it was caused the VOX. When the VOX is switched off, it makes a beep sound.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csO9VTtrg5A [youtube.com]

  • by mykepredko (40154) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:15AM (#42430661) Homepage

    "In your Face, Aldrin!"
    "A quarter million miles, billions of dollars, and you won't believe what I just stepped in."
    "What's that monolith doing here?"
    "Man, you can't believe what a fart smells like in here."
    "Houston, has Aldrin told you about his crotch rot yet?"
    "Honey, I think I left the stove on."
    "Houston, you're not going to believe this, but there's a flag with the Hammer and Sickle standing here."
    "Man, I could use the fresh, relaxing taste of Coca-Cola."
    "Suck it, Aldrin!"

    myke

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We're whalers on the moon...we carry a harpoon...

  • by Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:32AM (#42430739) Homepage
    Even before the landing Armstrong's first word on the moon were much anticipated and there was a lot of discussion for weeks in the press about what they would be.

    Esquire Magazine even ran a story before the moon landing where they asked sixty prominent figures at the time including Marshall McLuhan, Isaac Asimov, Buckminister Fuller, Ayn Rand, Bob Hope, Hubert Humphrey, Tiny Tim, Sal Mineo, Vladamir Nabokov, Mohamad Ali, Truman Capote, and John Kenneth Galbraith for their suggestions on what Armstrong should say upon landing on the moon [esquire.com] that would "ring through the ages.".

    When Neil H. Armstrong, a blond, blue-eyed, thirty-eight-year-old civilian astronaut from Wapakoneta, Ohio, steps out of the lunar landing module this summer and plants his size eleven space boot on the surface of the moon, the event will eclipse in historic importance the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Commander Armstrong's step will not immediately affect the nature of the quality of life on earth, of course (neither did Columbus'), but it will mark the departure point of a fantastic new adventure in the saga of man. For that step onto the moon will signal a readiness to travel throughout the solar system, even the universe â" in flights that will lead not merely to new worlds, new substances, new conceptions about the nature of matter and of life itself, but, it can scarcely be doubted, to contact with new beings as well. Moreover, Armstrong's will be the first such epic stride to be recorded in detail by the microphone and the television camera. Future generations will be able to relive all that was said and done at that moment as never before in the history of exploration. The stupendous magnitude and unprecedented visibility of what Commander Armstrong is about to do, therefore, combine to pose the question: when the astronaut takes the first step on the moon, what should he say?

    I believe it may have been Gore Vidal who made the suggestion that still sticks in my mind after forty-three years: "We come in peace for all mankind. Now come out from behind that rock with your hands up."

  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:32AM (#42430741)

    Last time I was there, at Tranquility Park in downtown Houston, across from the old federal building/current federal courts at 515 Rusk, there was a giant plaque at the entrance to the park quoting those first words from the moon.

    The quote included the missing "a".

    Somebody thought highly enough of the theory that the article belonged in the sentence that they cast it in bronze, decades ago, soon after the landing.

    It's been a while since I've been in that park. Is there anybody who works nearby who can verify that the plaque, complete with the "a", is still there? It used to be at the corner entrance on the Rusk side of the park.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You mean this thing [wikipedia.org]?

      I can make out an "a" at the bottom of the granite plaque on the left.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        That is truly one of the finest pictures of a trashcan I have ever seen.

        Will someone, anyone please go stand next to that trash can and shoot a panorama?

      • Informative, but no. Before the park was refurbished with a new central fountain, those walls, and those granite plaques, that spot had almost nothing on it except a few large bronze medallions set in the concrete at ground level at the entrance. You walked over the plaque I was originally thinking of.

        That's the right spot, though. Interesting to see what's there now.

        Wow - it HAS been a long time since I walked that park. Now that I think about it, it's probably been around 20 years. I shouldn't be sur

    • I assume you mean this? Neil Armstrong's bootprint.

      http://img.groundspeak.com/waymarking/78a83d0a-889c-4d0a-9e90-aa8e42efaa74.jpg [groundspeak.com]

      • Yes, I think that's the one I remember. It's in rougher shape than I remember, though. Did you take the pic recently? Is it still somewhere in the park?

        • Not my pic. I live on a different continent. Just googled it and that came up. I was curious what those large wall-plaques said. (Weirdly there were no better images than the "bin" one on Wikipedia. So I still don't know what they say.)

  • Missing the point (Score:4, Informative)

    by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:36AM (#42430761)
    Neil Armstrong was a gaming nerd!
  • In other news, who cares? It was an amazing moment in history. Why on earth are people still quibbling over the *EXACT* thing he said? Who *REALLY* cares if he messed it up live? The point was the same whether he missed an A or not.
  • by tool462 (677306) on Monday December 31, 2012 @01:28AM (#42430887)

    Not a huge fan of this origin story. I'm personally waiting for the Brian Singer reboot.

  • is the time during one could have asked Mr Armstrong directly...
  • Also debated is whether Armstrong meant to include 'a' before man, making the indefinite article 'man', which alludes to mankind, into a singular, 'a man', himself.

    "Man" is a noun, not an article. The addition of the indefinite article "a" is the difference between a count noun ("a man") or a non-count noun ("man").

    • Also debated is whether Armstrong meant to include 'a' before man, making the indefinite article 'man', which alludes to mankind, into a singular, 'a man', himself.

      "Man" is a noun, not an article. The addition of the indefinite article "a" is the difference between a count noun ("a man") or a non-count noun ("man").

      If we're going to call the grammar police then we might as well correct the whole thing. The sentence is missing either a comma or quotes:

      Armstrong meant to include 'a' before 'man', making the indefinite article 'man', ...

      -or-

      Armstrong meant to include 'a' before, man, making the indefinite article 'man', ...

      Well, that's just, like, my opinion, man.

  • Even astronauts. Even about stuff they themselves did. Brains are dumb things sometimes. :)

  • Armstrong paused for the a and I suspect the voice controlled push to talk in his OPS pack dropped out for a moment.

  • by Trax3001BBS (2368736) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:22AM (#42431639) Homepage Journal

    With Walter Cronkite.

    The first words was a big deal, everybody was anxious to hear what
    they would be. After the "one small step" line Cronkite says to his
    co-host well you have to understand he was under a lot of pressure
    over what to say. Nobody really thought it was great by any means
    but it's what we got.

    For me: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
    will always be the first words spoken and quality stuff.

  • I don't know why, but everyone always misses out the most important part:

    "That's one small step for [a] man [static] YOU SHOULD KILL US ALL ON SIGHT [static], one giant leap for mankind."

  • Turned out it was one giant leap for Armstrong, one largely irrelevant step for mankind.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday December 31, 2012 @09:13AM (#42432213) Homepage

    I listened to the event live, and I and everyone in the room heard it as "one small step for man." And I remember at the time hearing a comment, "shouldn't he have said one small step for a man?" The audio recording is perfectly clear. There's no squelch, no gap, and nothing half-buried under static. The New York Times reported it as it was.

    Neil Armstrong originally insisted he had said "a" but later acknowledged that he could not have said so. Wikipedia cites sources. [wikipedia.org]

    Yet some encyclopedias and history books include the "a." It is a kindly falsification of history, made out of misguided respect for Neil Armstrong's feelings.

    And I find it shocking.

    It is a trivial distortion, but it is a distortion of an event that was witnessed in live broadcast by half a billion people and electronically recorded.

    If such a thing can be distorted simply to spare one man's feelings about a completely inconsequential mistake, what does that tell us about the trustworthiness of basic, prosaic factual details of historical events with few eyewitnesses, no electronic records, and money, politics, or national pride hanging in the balance?

  • He has created multiple controversy towards the end of his life:
    1) his blasting of Obama's push for private space support while ignoring the fact that NASA's main-line rockets are disasters.
    2) his blasting of SpaceX, elon musk, and then his retraction of it.
    3) now, questions about his earlier statements; IOW, a question about his veracity.

    While it appears that his mind is going, or that he has allowed his political extremism to take hold, I just hope that none of this overshadow's his earlier accomplis
    • by smpoole7 (1467717)

      > While it appears that his mind is going

      As for this specific story, I think that's all it is. Youngsters have no idea how much fun it is to start getting old.

      My wife has the same birthday as my boss. I know I've told her this; she acted surprised yesterday to "discover" it again.

      But I'm not picking on her; I've forgotten things, too -- and the only reason I can't provide an example is because I can't remember one at the moment! :)

      Armstrong probably pondered what to say some time before the moon landing,

      • As a 53 y.o that is having memory issues due to vertigo, I understand about the losses (to the point where it is making it difficult to code anymore). However, if you look carefully at his attitude over the last 6 years, he has changed. I think that at this time, his mind is going, and this is just more proof of it.
  • I've read about the missing 'a' controversy for years and was watching live on TV when Neil made his step and statement, but the big news for me from this story is that Neil and his brother were playing Risk a few months before the mission. So was I, how cool is that!

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