Neil Armstrong descends the ladder of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module to become the first human to set foot on the Moon (credit: NASA)

Was Armstrong’s “One small step for man” a misquote?

When Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon in 1969, he uttered possibly the most famous quote in history: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But is that what he really said?

When Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon in 1969, he uttered possibly the most famous quote in history: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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Or at least, that’s what most of us think he said. But Armstrong actually claimed to have said “That’s one small step for a man…” which, if you think about it, actually makes more sense. Now, researchers in the US may have found evidence to back up Armstrong’s claim.

The poor audio quality of Armstrong’s quote makes it difficult to distinguish his exact words. So, to help them decipher the recording, researchers led by Dr Laura Dilley at Michigan State University compared Armstrong’s speech to the speech patterns of 40 people from Columbus, Ohio – a town near the astronaut’s birthplace.

If Armstrong really did say “one small step for a man”, previous studies have shown that he must have blended ‘for’ and ‘a’ into a sound like ‘frrr(uh)’. The researchers analysed clips of speech from other native Ohioans, who also tend to blend words like ‘for’ and ‘a’, and found that there was an overlap in the length of the Ohioans’ ‘rrr’ sounds when they were saying ‘for’ and ‘for a’.

Armstrong’s ‘frrr(uh)’ fell somewhere in the middle of this overlap, so although it doesn’t provide conclusive evidence either way, the result is compatible with Armstrong’s claim.

“We’ve bolstered Neil Armstrong’s side of the story,” says Dilley. “We feel we’ve partially vindicated him. But we’ll most likely never know for sure exactly what he said based on the acoustic information.”

Until we wait for further evidence, why not have a listen to Armstrong’s words for yourself and make up your own mind…


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