Neil Armstrong’s famous ‘One Small Step’ quote explained


Fifty years ago on the 21st of July 1969, the first man walked on the moon. This was after a successful expedition on the Apollo 11 by an American crew. Having landed on the 20th of July, six hours later Neil Armstrong became the first human set foot on lunar surface. He was joined minutes later by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Together, they completed a total of two and a quarter hours outside the spacecraft. They collected more than 20kg of lunar material which they brought back to earth.

The first step on the moon was broadcast live on TV worldwide, and it’s a moment that is simply unforgettable. Neil Armstrong aptly described the moment as “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. These words were like a crown on the realized dream of America for the 60s decade which according to President John F. Kennedy was: “Before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely back to the Earth.”

Photo: NASA

Armstrong’s quote no doubt received much attention. Worth noting, what everyone heard him as saying was, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. He was later to claim that there was an ‘a’ missing from the transmitted audio. On the 30th anniversary of the landing in 1999, Neil claimed that after listening to the transmission from the moon landing later on, he also didn’t hear himself use the article ‘a’.

“The ‘a’ was intended,” he said during the gathering. “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 parentheses.”

It wasn’t until 2006 that computer analysis backed up the Commander’s claims that he was sure he had included the word. A deep analysis of the sound waves proved that there indeed was such a word, but which was hard to detect on the transmission.

The quote which carries a deep meaning may sound like it was stage managed, but Armstrong claims it wasn’t. He explained it was he felt at the moment, and not something he had been coached about. In fact, NASA cites in its memo that ‘the truest emotion…is what the explorer feels within himself’.

Photo: NASA

According to Armstrong, he thought about it straight after landing. He goes ahead to say that he didn’t really put much concentration on it: “…it was not something that I really concentrated on, but just something that was kind of passing around subliminally or in the background. But it, you know, was a pretty simple statement, talking about stepping off something. Why, it wasn’t a very complex thing. It was what it was.”

Well, this simple statement turned out to be one of the most famous lines ever. After all, it was the first sentence spoken on the moon! True to his words, that was indeed a giant leap for mankind in the desire to explore the universe beyond Earth.