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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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  • 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.

  • Re:dub in the "a" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SomePgmr (2021234) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:27AM (#42430715) Homepage

    Last I heard, Armstrong (who insisted he said it right), was vindicated by analysis of the original audio.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @01:01AM (#42430829)

    You mean this thing [wikipedia.org]?

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

  • Yabba Dabba Doo! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @02:06AM (#42430965)

    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.

  • by erice (13380) on Monday December 31, 2012 @02:59AM (#42431115) Homepage

    Priorities.

    We don't care about a desolate place that will require sinking great wads of cash into it, unless there's oil, rare earths and minerals, or our IP has been infringed.

    "We" didn't care then either. We cared about one-uping the Soviets. Once we had landed on the moon and determined that the Soviets weren't going to try to top it, we lost interest.

    Apollo was never about science, exploration, or the opening of a frontier. It was a multi-billion dollar cold war publicity stunt that stole the thunder from the real pioneers that are still to come.

  • Re:dub in the "a" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThePromenader (878501) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:00AM (#42431117) Homepage Journal

    The missing "a" does make sense: aren't "man" and "mankind" synonymous? "A man" and "mankind" are obviously different, and if used would make a more meaningful (and humble) phrase meaning: "one l'il tippytoe for l'il old me, but what a mark of progress!".

  • Re:dub in the "a" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bjs555 (889176) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:49AM (#42431239)

    Until about 10 years ago I remember hearing all broadcasts of Armstrong's quote with a definite crackling "a" before the word "man". Then the crackling "a" disappeared. It seems to me someone decided the audio sounded better without the crackling sound, edited it out, and threw away the original. Thus history was changed. It's disturbing.

  • 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.

  • 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]

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