As the first member of the human race to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong had to say something memorable that day in 1969 - "Wow, man!" or "I'm thirsty" would not have been fitting for the occasion. But for nearly 40 years, Armstrong was widely believed to have blown his big moment.
What people heard was a crackly voice saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The sentence is more puzzling than profound - "man" and "mankind" mean pretty much the same thing, so mankind is both stepping and leaping at once. The only consolation is that Armstrong reached the moon before such gender-neutral formations as "personkind" became common.
Back on Earth, Armstrong insisted that he'd said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" - which makes much more sense. One man made a small step, thereby making a giant leap for the species he represented.
But the "a" remained missing from many reports of the first words from the lunar surface. "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations" records the sentence as "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The brackets suggest that the "a" was inserted by an editor to make sense of Armstrong's words.
But now an Australian computer programmer has reviewed the audio tape of the moon landing with the help of software that helps disabled people communicate. He found evidence that Armstrong actually said "That's one small step for a man," but the "a" was lost in transmission. Armstrong didn't blow his line after all - the problem was static in sending his voice across a quarter million miles of space.
It's good to see Armstrong vindicated in this way. As the first man on the moon, he ought to have said something worth quoting centuries from now - or at least something intelligible. It turns out he did. "Bartlett's" can take those brackets out of its next edition.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Columns; He didn't flub his moon-landing line|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Oct 11, 2006|
|Previous Article:||LETTERS IN THE EDITOR'S MAILBAG.|
|Next Article:||Measure 42: No.|
|Back to the moon.|