The small step of “A” man

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on 20th July 1969, there were about 600 million people who were watching the episode on earth. Too excited to speak, people from all over the world were glued to their television and radio sets to know how things were going up there. It was just at that moment when Neil uttered a few words - those that would go on to be remembered decades later, probably the most famous sentence ever spoken by a man.

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong takes his first step on the surface of the moon in July 1969

But the thing about great speeches or famous quotes is that, apart from the fact that they are rich in meaning and beautiful to hear, they are flawless in grammar. This is where Neil Armstrong missed out. There was a grammatical error in the very first words uttered on the moon. “That’s one small step for man. A giant leap for mankind”. Neil missed to add “a” before “man”

Technically the sentence makes perfect sense even without “a” but it changes the meaning. Surely while putting his foot down on the moon, Armstrong did not intend to say “That’s one small step for man”. He meant “a man”. When asked about the episode, Armstrong says that he did indeed say “a man” but the “a” was not heard due to static while transmitting the signal. The word “a” is not noted even in NASA’s official manuscript. NASA claims that it was unheard due to the static as well. Interestingly, New York Times claims that the recording was perfectly clear, without any static, and Neil Armstrong ‘had simply fluffed his line’.

While Armstrong initially declined such an accusation, there is evidence that he might have accepted it later on. According to authors of a biography, when he heard the recording of the landing many years later, Armstrong’s reaction was ”Damn I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn’t I?” But Neil Armstrong has always been a person who is reluctant to openly discuss in the media. On many occasions, media persons and historians have mentioned incidents wherein a friend or a person known to Neil Armstrong has mentioned something about the man, and Neil has flatly denied it, without saying anything else. But since Neil is probably the only person in the entire world, and the moon, to know what exactly he said, his word must be taken as the truth.

But then, Neil hasn’t always been true to the media. Till his death in 2012, Neil has always arrogantly maintained that the words he uttered were never planned before. Despite many people giving him ideas on what he should say, Neil denies the fact that he took any of them seriously. According to Neil, he came up with those lines only after the Lunar Module had touched the surface of the moon. But in an interview with BBC, Neil’s brother, Dean Armstrong claimed that Neil had infact been prepared with these lines much before the launch. Dean recalled his brother handing him a piece of paper with those lines written on it, when they were playing a game of Risk.

Correct or faulty, prepared on unprepared, this line would go down in history as one of the greatest lines ever spoken.

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