That's one small step for... whom? The word missing from most stories

That's one small step for... whom? The word missing from most stories

You've been hearing it again  for at least a week: the scratchy, 50-year-old audio of Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon's surface, becoming the first man to do so, and saying

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

But as a story from the Associated Press which appeared in the Sunday, July 21, 2019 edition of the Chicago Tribune stated, that wasn't what Armstrong had planned to say.

"Armstrong said there was a lost word in his famous one-liner from the moon: 'That's one small step for "a" man,' " according to the AP story.

But people didn't hear it.

In 1999, during a 30th anniversary celebration of Apollo 11, commander Armstrong "acknowledged that he didn't hear himself say it either when he listened to the transmission from the July 20, 1969, moon landing.

"The 'a' was intended," he said. "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."

I always knew I liked him. He was that Serious about words.

Meanwhile, the report continues, "computer analysis of  sound waves found evidence that Armstrong said what he said he said."

Armstrong died at age 82 in 2012.

The story leaves me wondering about the comparative strengths of the 2006 computer that analyzed those sound waves and the 1969 computers that got Armstrong and his colleagues, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, to the moon's Tranquility Base in the first place.

We owe Apollo 11 more than we can imagine. For people my age, the whole celebration is a reminder of the marvels of seeing new things, the joys of learning, and exciting good news.

"Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars," indeed.
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.



Filed under: Expressions


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  • You pointed out the paradox. "Intended to say" falls within the usual {at least legal} view that intent counts but only if it is manifested, which it wasn't in what we heard 50 years ago. On the other hand, there's more computing power in one of today's watches than was in the moon program in 1969.

    The question I would raise is if there was some flaw in the then communications technology that would make the "a" drop out.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks, Jack. I still wonder whether the flaw was in the old technology or the old Midwest accent -- "uh" rather than a long "a."

  • I'm glad you wrote this article about the article 'a'. I never gave Armstrong's words too close an analysis. But on reflection his statement makes more sense with the 'a' in it. Consider this: without the 'a' Armstrong's iconic words contain a redundancy. "Man" without the 'a' in front of it really means all men and women or more commonly 'mankind'. Therefore, in my opinion, Armstrong probably did say "a man' originally but for some reason ---inchoate technology, or what have you--- it came back to Earth without that pregnant little but potent 'a'.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Makes the most logical sense.

    But to put it on a technological level, I don't understand how my car audio system understands my mumbling "tune to preset 6." I guess it is better than the communications technology of 50 years ago.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks, Jack. I'm sure it's stronger technology, but I'm left wondering about "better."

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    At least I don't have to take my eyes off the road to find the FM button and whether I had a button set for 94.7 or have to twist the dial.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I'm glad I wrote it, too -- and glad you got the chance to get "inchoate" a bit of exercise. Thank you.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Sort of like attempted conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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