Famous lost word: The 'a' in 'one small step' line

(AP) -- When Neil Armstrong first spoke from the moon, he said one thing and people on Earth heard another. What the world heard was grammatically flubbed: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong insists he said: "That's one small step for 'a' man." It's just that people just didn't hear it.

Science, and NASA, back up Armstrong.

"The 'a' was intended," Armstrong said in a rare press conference in 1999. "I thought I said it. I can't hear it when I listen on the radio reception here on Earth, so I'll be happy if you just put it in parentheses."

But in 2006, a found evidence that Armstrong said what he said he said.

Peter Shann Ford, an Australian computer programmer, ran a software analysis looking at sound waves and found a wave that would have been the missing "a." It lasted 35 milliseconds, much too quick to be heard.

Armstrong and experts at the Smithsonian Institution looked at the evidence and it was convincing, said Smithsonian space curator Roger Launius.

"I find the technology interesting and useful," Armstrong said in a statement. "I also find his conclusion persuasive."

And NASA stands by its man.

"If says there was an 'a,' then as far as we're concerned, there was 'a,'" NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said.

Armstrong is famously a man of few words, but he and NASA insist that he came up with those famous and profound words on his own. Launius believes him.

In a 2001 NASA oral history, Armstrong said: "I thought about it after landing, and because we had a lot of other things to do, it was not something that I really concentrated on, but just something that was kind of passing around subliminally or in the background. But it, you know, was a pretty simple statement, talking about stepping off something. Why, it wasn't a very complex thing. It was what it was."


On the Net:

Hear, and see, Armstrong step on to the moon: http://history.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11.v1092338.mov

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further

First authorized bio of Neil Armstrong

Citation: Famous lost word: The 'a' in 'one small step' line (2009, July 19) retrieved 21 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2009-07-famous-lost-word-small-line.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jul 19, 2009
Why is this even newsworthy, please?

Jul 19, 2009

Okay, you asked for it. So here it is. Buckle your seat belt because the redundancy(or nonredundancy) involves space aliens, and NASA conspiracy.

There is a group of people that believe Armstrong intentionally made that statement without the "a" to symbolically hide a two part meaning.

[1st half]
"That's one small step for man"

Conspirist says that the 1st part means mankind(human race as a whole). But If you add the "a" it would change the meaning to singular person(man).

[2nd half]
"one giant leap for mankind." Conspirist say that this 2nd part, the word mankind really means our space brothers in the cosmic neighborhood that share similar DNA to us.

[comparison to...]
The TV series Battlestar Galactica is the best analogy I can think of. Humans beings were seeded across the universe.

[Wording cause and effect]
If the phrase did contain the letter "a", then conspirist have nothing to cling to. On the otherhand, If the phrase didn't contain the letter "a", then the conspirist have something to add to their "NASA is performing ritual symbolism" grabbag.

[conspirist so called evidences]
NASA tries to perform events on the date of JULY 20. Ie, on this date, first person walked on moon, first robot landing on another planet (Viking on mars), etc, etc, etc, And 2nd, NASA tries to perform events during specific star constellations, ie, the astronaut on the moon raising his challice(cup) in the background is a certain star arrangement.

According to Richard Hoagland (Walter Kronkite associate at NASA), he claims that the collection of evidence that he has gathered is mathematically or statistically outweighs these events done by chance.

Jul 19, 2009
... or, just perhaps, this shy fella with the whole world watching, got nervous ... especially if we go along with the popular idea that he was in fact about to make the first step on our moon, (and wondering if he would ever set step on the Earth again)

Jul 20, 2009
If I say the same sentence naturally, what comes out is
"That's one small step for-a-man, one giant leap for mankind".
The 'a' sound almost disappears because 'a' continues the movement already started with the 'for', and is quickly reversed to close the lips for the 'm' of man.

A lot of speech recognition is actually visual, so it has always seemed likely to me that Armstrong did say the 'a', but without seeing the mouth briefly open wider than a normal 'r', people missed the 'a'.

Jul 20, 2009
The transceivers even in today's spacesuits are gated; the audio is muted when the db level drops below a threshold point. All but 35 milliseconds of the "a" could have been muted by the gate.

Jul 20, 2009
I buy Armstrong's explanation. I thought it sounded odd the moment he said it 40 years ago. We've all heard enough garbled radio, especially cell phones, to know that quality can get mangled.

Jul 20, 2009
I think a much better thing to say as the first thing on the moon would have been "w00t, I'm on the moon".

Jul 25, 2009
Armstrong's real first word on touching the moon with his foot were "It's some sort of fluffy stuff - I can kick it around with my foot".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more