Current Issue
May 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Keeping you current

One Small Question About Armstrong’s Giant Leap for Mankind: When Did He Come Up With That Line?

Did Neil Armstrong come up with his now-famous quote long before he landed on the Moon?


It is one of the most memorable quotes of the modern era: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The late Neil Armstrong thought up that line as he sat in the Eagle lunar module, waiting to step down to the surface of the Moon. But there’s always been a bit of trouble with it: The extra “a”, says Live Science, was a part of the message garbled by the long-distance transmission. And now, the story of the line’s spontaneous creation, told for the past 40 years, is also in question.

Dean Armstrong, Neil’s brother, has challenged the accepted history of the first words spoken from the surface of the Moon, says the Telegraph. As part of a documentary by the BBC, Dean recounts of the tale of how Neil shared his apparently-prepared quote with him over a game of Risk:

“Before went to the Cape, he invited me down to spend a little time with him. He said ‘why don’t you and I, once the boys go to bed, why don’t we play a game of Risk’.

“I said I’d enjoy that. We started playing Risk and then he slipped me a piece of paper and said ‘read that’. I did.

“On that piece of paper there was ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. He says ‘what do you think about that?’ I said ‘fabulous’. He said ‘I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it’.”

He then added: “It was ‘that is one small step for A man’.”

Dean’s adjusted history of the quote has another unfortunate side effect. He opens up a disturbing possibility: Was Armstrong lying all these years? It’s too late to find out. LiveScience:

Neil Armstrong, who died Aug. 25 at the age of 82, had never mentioned the conversation publicly. If that scene took place just as Dean Armstrong says, it would contradict numerous statements by the first moonwalker.

… This new information from Dean Armstrong has ruffled some space enthusiasts and historians, who wonder what Neil Armstrong himself would say if he were still alive.

“Whether intentional or not, Dean Armstrong’s account now suggests his brother has been lying for 40-plus years,” Pearlman said.

More from Smithsonian.com:

 Neil Armstrong, the First Man to Walk on the Moon, Dies at 82
Godspeed, Neil Armstrong — A Curator From the Air and Space Museum Reflects on the Astronaut’s Life
Apollo 11 Moonwalk Montage

Tags
About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus