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Monday, August 27, 2012

RIP _ Neil Armstrong

Tributes are being paid to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, following his death, aged 82.
Read about the continuing mystery (and missquote?) around those most famous words...

Armstrong underwent a heart-bypass surgery earlier this month, just two days after his birthday on August 5, to relieve blocked coronary arteries.
His family announced his death today (local time).
As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. As he stepped on the dusty surface, Armstrong said: "“That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."
Those words endure as one of the best known quotes in the English language.
Buzz Aldrin, his crew-mate on the Apollo 11 mission and the second man on the moon paid tribute to Armstrong today via Twitter.
"On behalf of the Aldrin family we extend our deepest condolences to Carol & the entire Armstrong family on Neil's passing. He will be missed."
US President Barack Obama also praised Armstrong following news of his death.
"Neil was among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time. When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation."
Michael Collins, who flew to the moon with Armstrong and served as the command module pilot said: ''He was the best, and I will miss him terribly.''
NASA chief Charles Bolden recalled Armstrong's grace and humility in a statement on Saturday. ''As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind's first small step on a world beyond our own."

That's one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.

— Neil A. Armstrong, Commander Apollo 11, first words spoken by a man walking on another heavenly body, received at 9:56 pm local time in Houston (Mission Elapsed Time 109:24:13), as Armstrong stepped off the LM 'Eagle' and onto the Moon in the Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquility), 20 July 1969.

The link to the audio:

the link to the tv footage:

This, the most famous space line ever spoken, heard live by an estimated audience of 450 million people, was initially recorded without the 'a'. The next day's New York Times (21 July 1969) reported the line several times without it, including on the front page and as the 'Quotation of the Day' (on page 35). Armstrong didn't realize the 'a' was not heard until after he got back to Earth. The New York Times of 31 July 1969 had a short column about the 'a' back on page 20, saying that:

One small but important word was omitted in the official version of the historic utterance he made when he stepped on the moon 11 days ago. . . . The "a" apparently went unheard and unrecorded in the transmission because of static, a spokesman for the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston said in a telephone interview. What ever the reason, inserting the omitted article makes a slight but significant change in the meaning of Mr. Armstrong's words.
And so the debate started.
In the 1970 book First On The Moon, (the "exclusive and official account . . . as seen by the men who experienced it") Neil wrote his famous words with the 'a,' noting that Mission Control missed it. He writes "tape recorders are fallible." Lunar surface communications were voice-activated and sometimes subject to interference. When presented with a plaque by the builders of the Lunar Module, he pointed out their mistake in failing to include the 'a,' and was told that the word was not in the tapes. He insisted—at that time—that he had said it. However, when listening to the tape, many people do not hear the 'a.
So maybe he did not say it. Armstong was an amazing test pilot and aerospace engineer, but he had been awake for 24 hours at the time of the moonwalk. He was making history for the ages on live TV in the ultimate dangerous uncertain environment. He was not an actor used to reciting lines. Thirty years later he said:
The 'a' was intended. I thought I said it. I can't hear it when I listen on the radio reception here on earth, so I'll be happy if you just put it in parenthesis. (16 July, 1999.)
Of course, then again, maybe he did say it. In his 2006 official biography, First Man, Armstrong states,
It doesn’t sound like there was time for the word to be there. On the other hand, I didn’t intentionally make an inane statement . . . certainly the ‘a’ was intended, because that’s the only way the statement makes any sense.
The Times of London reported on 2 October 2006 that by using high-tech sound analysis techniques an Australian computer expert has rediscovered the missing letter. Peter Shann Ford ran the NASA recording through sound-editing software and "clearly picked up an acoustic wave from the word 'a,' finding that Mr. Armstrong spoke it at a rate of 35 milliseconds—ten times too fast for it to be audible." Neil Armstrong issued a statement saying: “I find the technology interesting and useful. I also find his conclusion persuasive.” However this analysis has been disputed by other audio experts and had not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. More recently, in a June 2009 Popular Mechanics article, Armstrong "confirmed" that he did say the 'a.'
My take on this? He was saying the 'a,' but the physical exertion, lack of sleep, and the gravity of the moment combined to rob Armstrong of his normally clear Ohio speaking voice. The way he naturally says the phrase makes the 'a' soft; watch as Tim Russert politely ambushes him to repeat the phrase 30 years later (MP4). We could almost have the same debate over this tape! And so the debate continues, and thus I follow Armstrong's excellent idea of a parenthesis format.