Missing “a” discovered!

Analysis of a 1969 recording reveals that Neil Armstrong actually did say “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”.


  1. says

    After the first moon landing in 1969, the astronauts were feted at a White House dinner. A singer entertained the attendees with a celebratory ballad commissioned for the occasion. I recall that when the singer voiced the words “One small step for a man,” the news commentator (Cronkite?) pointed out that the “a” had been lost in the radio transmission from the moon, but Armstrong had rectified the omission. Plenty of people, though, immediately made snarky comments about Armstrong’s supposedly trying to cover up a clumsy mistake and I felt sorry for him: he flubbed one of the greatest historical events ever.

    This report pleases me all out of proportion to its significance and I’m glad that Armstrong lived to see this substantial vindication.

  2. says

    This is a big deal for me, too. In 1969 I was thirteen years old, and my whole family stayed up late to watch that first step. We noted the apparent slipup at the time, but didn’t think much of it because we were so absolutely enthralled by the whole thing.

    When I got my first computer it included a rather poor quality audio clip of the phrase. It played whenever I used certain applications and the “a” was definitely missing. So for years I was more or less constantly reminded of the “slip.” At some point I chose to understand it in a positive way, as evidence of how emotionally overwhelmed Armstrong must have been at that moment, so it served merely to humanize him and make the event seem less mythic and more real to me. Still, I’m glad to hear Armstrong might have gotten it right after all.

  3. chris hart says

    I, too, am glad to see this issue put to rest, and am truly amazed at the technology that made it possible.

    I have to admit, though, that the Space Race as a whole has lost its nostalgic appeal for me. There certainly was courage, and inginuity, and sacrifice involved, but in the end, it was all about beating the Soviets to the Moon. It wasn’t really about science or exploration, it was about risking lives and expending vast amounts of money and resources simply to defend our wounded national pride.

  4. JJR says

    The Space Race was about testing rocket technology for military ICBMs; the moon landing was a feel-good offshoot from this. Tom Lehrer (who is/was also a university level mathematics teacher) in his satirical songs, shows a grim awareness of this reality.

    The Pentagon is determined to weaponize space, too, treaties and international agreements be damned.

    All this said, the Space Program itself still gives me goosebumps. I hope I live long enough to see a manned mission to Mars. But I question if it will ever happen, because I don’t see the narrow stragetic/military value of doing so…not saying it has to have one, just saying that Washington $$$ flows to “defense”-related (i.e. war) projects more easily than anything else.

  5. Bill Brown says

    I have always been troubled,not so much by the missing word,but by the fact that so many people didn’t realize that the word should be there. The phrase has been repeated countless times in countless variations by people who apparently don’t understand what it means.Sadly,this new information is not likely to change that.

  6. Mooser says

    I have commented before on the alarming disapearance of the letter “a”, which may lead to it’s eventual extinction.
    So I am of mixed feelings about this new discovery.
    Besides, I saw the film of the guy jumping off the ladder on to the moons surface. It was not a small step, it was by every measure a big step. A biiiiiig step!

  7. kdn says

    Tempest in a teapot.

    With or without the indefinite article, we all understood what Neil was saying, as well as what he meant, even as we watched it live in 1969.

    If we had wanted supreme eloquence, we would have sent R. Buckminster Fuller.

    The matter needs to rest.

  8. goddogtired says

    I heard a “a” when it happened. I hear an “a” when it’s replayed. I very, very much prefer the modesty of “a man” to the pompous “MAN” whether it was an error or not.
    Besides caring enough to pop off here, I could care less.

  9. N.Wells says

    I guess I’m a pedant. A fine statement befits a major event, so the “a” means a lot to me, as did the occasion of a human stepping onto the moon, and I’m glad we now know that Armstrong got it right. I’m sorry I disbelieved him at the time.

  10. says

    Smacks of revisionist history to me. The researcher wants to hear the “a” and figures out a way in which it might have been lost. A better approach would be to analyse the Apollo tapes for similar dropped content.
    The lost “a” is discussed in Andrew Chaikin’s excellent book “A Man on the Moon”. Armstrong once answered impishly “we’ll never know” when asked if the “a” was forgotten or lost. Chaikin says that to his ears, forgotten is the more likely explanation and I’d agree with him.
    Having said all that – who cares! The guy walked on the moon!

  11. says

    I recently heard that Neil Armstrong is and always has been an atheist. Does anyone know whether that is fact or rumor? (It would be pretty cool if it is true.)

  12. 386sx says

    Smacks of revisionist history to me.

    Me too. They’re full of crap. listen to the damn recording for yourselves.

    The “a” was transmitted, though, and can be verified in an analysis using a Canadian sound editing software called GoldWave , Ford said.

    Yeah, I hear that GoldWave is some real hi-tech audio analysis software. (Sarcasm.)

  13. says

    “…Neil Armstrong, the ex-test pilot, college professor, amateur musician, atheist, and the first human being to set foot on the moon.” — On the Edge of the Spotlight by Kathy Cronkite (Walter’s daughter), William Morrow and Co., Inc., New York, 1981.

    Not exactly a definitive reference, but a data point nonetheless. Anyway I’m thankful the first words spoken on the Moon were about humans rather than God-talk of somekind.

  14. thwaite says

    Last summer NPR publicized the existence of and current search for the high-quality videotapes of the 1969 moon landing – much higher originals than what was broadcast, as the originals were in an arcane format which was converted to broadcast NTSC and PAL simply by aiming broadcast cameras at the receiving monitors. But the original signals were recorded also.

    “Search Is on for Original Apollo 11 Footage”

    (the page also links to a broadcast video excerpt of the ‘one small step…’ sequence)

    I’m wondering if these originals, which I don’t think have yet been located, would have sufficiently better audio fidelity to decide this issue.


    NPR’s “Science Friday” program discussed the reality that this weekend initiates the closure of EPA document libraries nationally, as mandated last Spring as a ‘cost-cutting’ measure. Supposedly the libraries will move on-line – but funding for this is inadequate, and no documents prior to 1990 were ever digitized.

    “Critics Protest Plans to Shutter EPA Libraries”

  15. Ktesibios FCD says

    I have some background in enhancing the intelligibility of noisy sound recordings. I also have access to some pretty good tools for that purpose at work. I’d be interested in seeing if I can replicate these results using different tools.

    Now the problem is finding a good quality, downloadable/saveable copy of the A11 EVA audio. The ALSJ only has links to streaming audio versions, which won’t do at all. I’ll keep looking, but if anyone happens to know of a source, I’d appreciate a heads-up.

  16. 386sx says

    Chico Marx:

    “A that’s a one a small a step a for a man…

    …there ain’t a no sanity clause!”

  17. Doc Bill says

    I dunno. I watched it on TV in 1969 and we paid very close attention. Everybody wondered what Armstrong would say as the first human on the moon. He went down the ladder and stood on the landing pad, then stepped to the surface.

    We never heard the “a” and wrote down what he said, several of us with pens and paper.

    After the broadcast was over we had an animated discussion about whether he should have said “a man” instead of “man.” It made more sense with “a man” because it immortalized Armstrong in the first words; he was the first man.

    However, we concluded that Armstrong changed the statement at the last moment so as to not immortalize himself, rather characterize “man” in general; one small step for man.

    We rationalized that it made sense since the landing on the moon was one small step out of many it had taken to get there, but it was a giant leap for mankind to step on another solar body.

    Personally, I like the “a man” over “man” because it describes better what was happening at the moment. One man’s opinion.

  18. NelC says

    The man had just travelled a quarter of a million miles in only three days, made the most difficult landing of his career, was carrying 200 lbs of spacesuit and lifesupport, and had a only a few hours to carry out one of those stuffed-to-the-brim NASA checklists before climbing back into his tinfoil spaceship to travel another quarter of a million miles to drop into the middle of an ocean. If he says he meant to say “a man” then I’ll take him at his word, and carry on quoting it that way, just as I did for years before I knew there was a controversy.

  19. TG says

    No one who knows anything about audio editing could possibly takes this seriously.

    Goldwave is *NOT* a high-tech program. The Ford guy has no credibility and no qualifications for doing this sort of thing whatsoever, it smacks of a hobby project to me.

    I’ve been reading as many articles about this as I could find and they seem to all tell a different story, one more unbelievable than the next.

    A 35ms gap of noise is not something you can prove anything with. It’s so short that if you filter it you can come up with any sound you want to hear.
    And according to this article the guy even slowed it down by a factor 10 to hear it:

    Now that’s just plain cheating.

    I quote from the article: “The phrase was spoken quickly and the microphone didn’t catch every syllable, says Ford. But the signature of the word is there, existing visually in a graphic representation of the famous quote.”

    Now I’ve been working a fair bit with digital audio in my time, but I must confess that I have never seen any of these ‘ghostly signatures’ of which Mr. Ford speaks.

    It sounds like pure hocus-pocus to me. If the microphone didn’t catch it, it does not exist in the recording.

    As far as I can tell from this hyped mess, the only ‘evidence’ this guy offers is that there’s a pause between the two words that *might* contain something that looks sorta like an ‘a’.
    I can think of many other reasons for a pause in the recording. Maybe the audio transmission back to earth was blanking momentarily, it did that a lot during the mission. Maybe Armstrong took a breath. Or maybe he was just distracted by, you know, being the first guy to walk on the Moon in human history.

    I say, bogus!