What Neil Armstrong Said

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I see that an Australian computer programmer has found the missing "a" in Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon, making his statement, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" [news story, Oct. 2]. I would welcome that if it were true. But, frankly, I doubt it.

In 1969 I was acting chief of the Broadcasting Services Office at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston -- "acting" because the chief, Bob Hart, was hospitalized. I had a capable group of typists who would listen to tapes of all conversation from space, transcribe them and turn the transcriptions over to our print shop for distribution to the media.

One typist came to me just after Mr. Armstrong stepped onto the moon and said, "This just doesn't sound right!" She noted that Mr. Armstrong had said, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I groaned, and we went to her booth to listen to the tape. I listened to it six times, trying to hear even the slightest hesitation between the words "for" and "man." Had I heard it, I would have assumed he had swallowed the "a," and I would have amended the transcript to read "One small step for a man."

But there was no such hesitation. I approved the transcript, and that's the way it went out to the world. His words were historic, and I had no right to change them. I stand by the decision I made some 37 years ago.

As for Mr. Armstrong, I was amazed he could even speak at that moment. He had every right to be slightly incoherent.



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