Did We Mishear Neil Armstrong's Famous First Words

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by RocketGeekInFL, Jul 19, 2019.

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  1. Jul 19, 2019 #1

    RocketGeekInFL

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  2. Jul 19, 2019 #2

    jqavins

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    I've often heard it reported that Armstrong meant to say "a man" but flubbed it. Listen carefully and you can hear two short pauses followed by the last part in what might be called rush, consistent with Armstrong's knowing he'd flubbed it, though obviously that's very far from conclusive. Listen again to that moment and see if you don't think it's consistent with this version:
    "That's one small step for man," Wait, did I say 'a'? "One..." Damnit, I left out 'a'! "giant-leap-for-mankind." Crap!

    Any way you slice it, the sentiment makes a whole lot more sense with 'a' included. "Man" without 'a' means pretty much the same thing as 'mankind', so the sentence seems really confusing. What he apparently meant say - that only a small step for him, a particular man, was a much bigger deal for mankind - would have been great words for that moment. What he actually said may have been one of history's greatest flubs.
     
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  3. Jul 19, 2019 #3

    MClark

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    I have heard the missing "a" may be because of the voice activated microphone. He hesitated long enough after "for" that the Mike shut off, comes back on with "a" but we only hear "man".

    And what about the next sentence addressed to his neighbor when he was a kid?

    M
     
  4. Jul 19, 2019 #4

    KILTED COWBOY

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    Heard the New York Times has a tweet out today stating that the NASA space program was designed by men for men.
    Can we stop politicizing everything!
    I guess revisionist history will have to change Armstrong's famous quote.
    Perhaps "one giant step for a human, one giant leap for humanity"
     
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  5. Jul 19, 2019 #5

    jadebox

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    With all the drop outs in the audio, it is possible that he said "a man" (with little delay between the words) and the "a" just got lost. There was some analysis done a while back showing that it is possible that he said "a man." In any case, I think it is appropriate to quote his words as he meant to say them.
     
  6. Jul 19, 2019 #6

    MClark

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    "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky,"
     
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  7. Jul 19, 2019 #7

    jqavins

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    He deliberately kept that too quiet for the mic to pick up. He didn't want to have to explain it.
     
  8. Jul 19, 2019 #8

    adrian

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    It's always worth checking stories like this on Snopes:
    https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/good-luck-mr-gorsky/
    The aforementioned NASA transcripts:
    https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/alsj/a11/a11.step.html
    On the subject of the missing "a":
     
  9. Jul 19, 2019 #9

    jqavins

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    Wait, do you mean to say that there are people who take the Mr. Gorsky thing seriously?

    As for "The important point is that the world had no problem understanding his meaning," I humbly disagree. I was confused when I first heard it (which I don't think was 50 years ago; I was 5½, so it might have been) and I've spoken to others who were as well. The 'a' clears everything up, but some of us were rather clueless until it was explained.
    • I claim this land for Spin.
    • Frankly, my dear, I give a dam.
    • Lafeet, we are here!
    • To be, or to be; that is... wait... what?
     
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  10. Jul 19, 2019 #10

    samb

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    I think he meant to say "F'in A !" ;) That's what happens when you send a test pilot to do a poet's job. ;);)
     
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  11. Jul 19, 2019 #11

    jqavins

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    Are you referring to the headline in The Onion?
     
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  12. Jul 19, 2019 #12

    aerostadt

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    How many people after a nerve-racking trip, piloting a one-of-a-kind vehicle with so much hanging in the balance, might miss saying "a" or "ah" in a sentence. I was in college at the time and we had friends and family altogether ready to drink champagne and I clearly heard "one giant leap for mankind" and caught the excitement of the moment right away.
     
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  13. Jul 19, 2019 #13

    Bat-mite

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    I heard he had intended to say, "Ain't nothin' but a thing," but changed it at the last second.
     
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  14. Jul 19, 2019 #14

    Mugs914

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    The pause was when he was looking for a mic to drop.
     
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  15. Jul 20, 2019 #15

    WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

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    Joseph Avins: Your analysis is spot on! Bravo!
     
  16. Jul 20, 2019 #16

    gldknght

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    Good Grief, mountains out of mole hills!
     
  17. Jul 20, 2019 #17

    jadebox

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    The analysis I was referring to concerned the timing and cadence of what he said. I can't find a reference to it, but I think I read about it in Discover or Smithsonian magazine. The study showed that, based on what we heard on earth, he could have said "a man" and that saying "a man" would have fit into the rythm or pattern of the words as we heard them. So it is quite possible that he said the "a" and it wasn't picked up by the microphone or was lost in transmission.

    On the other hand, Armstrong himself thought that he didn't hear enough time for the "a" when he listened to the recording later and he said that he was known to drop syllables at times in other transmissions from the moon.
     
  18. Jul 21, 2019 #18

    Marc_G

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    Amazing how much attention the "a" gets in the whole retelling and analysis. I mean, damn, the dude just flew to the moon and did a harsh landing after all sorts of radar computer overflow errors and such. I find the quibbling over "a" to be ridiculous.
     
  19. Jul 21, 2019 #19

    gldknght

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    Me too
     
  20. Jul 21, 2019 #20

    JStarStar

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    Yep. Neil himself said he probably intended to say "for A man," but under the circumstances of the moment, probably just said, "for man."

    And, given the transmission distances, the possibility "a man" could simply have been distorted in the process is significant as well

    Bottom line: there's no substantive difference in any interpretation of the phrase.

    Maybe Neil should have said, "That's one literal small step for this individual man, but a metaphorical giant leap for the collective body of all humankind."

    Ehhhhh ... nah.

    Neil did just fine the first time.
     
  21. Jul 22, 2019 #21

    jqavins

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    Whether he said it or not is not a big deal since the fact is well established that he meant it. It's a deal at all because the sentence makes no sense without 'a', leaving some of us scratching our heads until the intention is made explained. "Oh, he meant 'a man'. That explains it. That's actually really good that way."

    Beyond that the only question is did one of our great heroes at one of all mankind's greatest moments flub his line or didn't he? And yeah, it's not really important. But we shouldn't be surprised that people are still talking about it. (And when I say "people" I mean all those who've posted to this thread, among others.)
     
  22. Jul 22, 2019 #22

    Alan15578

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    From a Student paper:
    "...one giant leap for mankid."
     
  23. Jul 23, 2019 #23

    vcp

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    An Armstrong quote I remember from an interview perhaps 40 years ago: "It's what I meant to say... it's what I thought I said..."
     
  24. Jul 23, 2019 #24

    gtche98

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    If you haven't listened to it, I highly recommend BBC World Service's "13 Minutes to the Moon" podcast. Over the course of 11 podcasts, they dissect the radio transmissions and control room loops starting with the moment they fire the retro rockets to begin their decent. It is fascinating to learn the "story behind the story" of some of the more technical parts of the transmissions, and gave me a whole new perspective of the drama that unfolded when listening back to those transmissions. It is also an interesting fresh take on a story that has been told hundreds of times.
     

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