Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the Moon, died today at age 82. A legendary test pilot before he became an astronaut, his big feat (feet?) took place on July 21, 1969, followed by the famous statement analyzed in detail by Wikipedia:
Although the official NASA flight plan called for a crew rest period before extra-vehicular activity, Armstrong requested that the EVA be moved to earlier in the evening, Houston time. Once Armstrong and Aldrin were ready to go outside, Eagle was depressurized, the hatch was opened and Armstrong made his way down the ladder first.
At the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (referring to the Apollo Lunar Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969, then spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Armstrong had decided on this statement following a train of thought that he had had after launch and during the hours after landing.The broadcast did not have the “a” before “man”, rendering the phrase a contradiction (as man in such use is synonymous with mankind). NASA and Armstrong insisted for years that static had obscured the “a”, with Armstrong stating he would never make such a mistake, but after repeated listenings to recordings, Armstrong admitted he must have dropped the “a”. Armstrong later said he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said – although it might actually have been”.
It has since been claimed that acoustic analysis of the recording reveals the presence of the missing “a”; Peter Shann Ford, an Australia-based computer programmer, conducted a digital audio analysis and claims that Armstrong did, in fact, say “a man”, but the “a” was inaudible due to the limitations of communications technology of the time.Ford and James R. Hansen, Armstrong’s authorized biographer, presented these findings to Armstrong and NASA representatives, who conducted their own analysis. The article by Ford, however, is published on Ford’s own web site rather than in a peer-reviewedscientific journal, and linguists David Beaver and Mark Liberman wrote of their skepticism of Ford’s claims on the blog Language Log. Although Armstrong found Ford’s analysis “persuasive”, he has expressed his preference that written quotations include the “a” in parentheses.
NASA has a wonderful minute-by-minute transcript of the first Moon walk, linked to audio and video of the event. Do check it out (h/t to Matthew Cobb for this).
I went to a friend’s house to see the first step on the Moon, but was late because it wasn’t supposed to occur until later. And just as I walked through the screen door (it was in Virginia, and it was hot), I saw Armstrong walk down the ladder and step on the surface. I was lucky I made it in time! Where you were when you saw that is something you never forget, just like where you were when you heard that John F. Kennedy was shot. Were you alive during that time, and if so, did you watch the Moon walk live?
This photo, showing Armstrong’s face as he walked on the moon, surfaced only three years ago:
And a sad commentary from xkcd:
Oh,to leaven this sad day a bit with some humor, Byron Tau posted on Twitter a headline that NBC News got wrong:
This latter Neil was often accused of being a space cadet, but never left the Earth.