OK, so what did Neil Armstrong really say 53 years ago today?

Back in August of 2017 I wrote about a visit downtown:

I loved our recent family trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum, but I still can’t get a particular moment out of my head.

It occurred during a program in the Planetarium. There was a segment about man first landing on the moon. A narrator read these famous words spoken by Neil Armstrong:

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Did you catch that?

That’s what a narrator in the Museum show says, but is that really what Armstrong said?

I hear “one small step for man.” I don’t hear the ‘a.’

Armstrong insists I’m mistaken along with probably millions of others.

A 2013 article by the LA Times contains this quote from the famous astronaut:

“I think that reasonable people will realize that I didn’t intentionally make an inane statement and that certainly the ‘a’ was intended, because that’s the only way the statement makes any sense.”

Fine, that was his intent. Is there better evidence? Try this.

Peter Shann Ford is a Sydney, Australia-based computer programmer who has worked at a company that specializes in helping physically handicapped people use their nerve impulses to communicate through computers. Ford claims Armstrong spoke, “One small step for a man … ” with the “a” lasting a total of 35 milliseconds, 10 times too quickly to be heard.”

So for decades history has been missing an asterisk?

NASA and the Public Museum agree with Armstrong.

I’m still scratching my head.

—August 30, 2017

And about a year later I wrote:

Still Think the Moon Landings Were Faked? Here’s More Proof They Weren’t

Our family was at the Museum today and prior to a show at the Planetarium on WI Stargazing there was a series of Q and As flashed on the huge screen.

One asked who was the first man on the moon. The answer was supplied with that man’s quote:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Thank you, Milwaukee Public Museum, for getting it right.

—August 2, 2018

Over the years, researchers have tried to comb the audio files of Armstrong’s famous words, with mixed results. Some have suggested that Armstrong definitely produced the infamous “a,” while others maintain that it’s unlikely or too difficult to tell. But the original sound file was recorded 50 years ago, and the quality is pretty poor.

So can we ever really know whether Neil Armstrong uttered that little “a”?

Perhaps not.

—Melissa Michaud Baese-Berk, Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon
July 17, 2019

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