High-tech detective work apparently has found the missing “a” in one of the most famous phrases ever spoken.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words from the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, now can be confidently recast, according to the research, as, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The discrepancy has been widely debated for years by historians, academics and fans of space travel, with the “a” sometimes appearing in parentheses in government documents and Armstrong being listed on unofficial Web sites as being guilty of a momentous flub.

The missing one-letter word was found this month in a software analysis of Armstrong’s famous phrase by Peter Shann Ford, a Sydney, Australia-based computer programmer. Ford’s company, Control Bionics, specializes in helping physically handicapped people use their nerve impulses to communicate through computers.

On Thursday, Ford and Auburn University historian James R. Hansen, Armstrong’s authorized biographer, presented the findings to Armstrong and others in a meeting at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. They repeated the presentation at NASA’s Washington headquarters, which has long backed Armstrong’s version of the phrasing.

“I have reviewed the data and Peter Ford’s analysis of it and I find the technology interesting and useful,” Armstrong said in a statement. “I also find his conclusion persuasive. Persuasive is the appropriate word.”

Here’s the entire article. Full disclosure: Dr. Hansen was my history professor at Auburn, and is a prince of a guy.


11 Responses to “Cool”

  1. bigmac Says:

    Minor point of difference. I heard it as “Persuasive is the ppropriate word.”

  2. Robert Says:

    W cld sv lts f tm f w ll jst drppd mr vwls.

  3. FloridaSteve Says:

    Glad ta her it…. finally but even more mysterious is the missing “Vodka” and “Tomorrow” from this website…. where ya been boys?

  4. jon Says:

    I liked the version quoted in The Onion better.

  5. Sparky Says:

    What a baffling controversy. I watched the moon landing live, and clearly remember Neil Armstrong’s first words. My thoughts were to cringe a bit for what seemed an obviously contrived statement.

    Of course, given its historical importance, Armstrong HAD to say something pithy and memorable. It is just that it necessarily sounded staged and somewhat ponderous, I wished it could have been a little more jaunty and original. But hey, he had to think of the folks back in Houston and many people before him who made it possible. He was an aviator, not a writer or lecturer.

    Never, never, in my hearing or recollection was the “a” missing in action. So where did this controversy come from?

  6. ErikZ Says:

    I’ve seen this posted in several blogs. To the point where I have to say “So what?”

    They found the missing “a”. The guy was the first man to walk on the moon and people are obsessing about a missing letter. The missing “a” is about as interesting as a missing rivet on the lander.

  7. Deacon Blues Says:

    I thought he said, “It’s some kind of soft stuff. I can kick it around with my foot”, but that oart was not transmitted to the TV viewers. That’s my story.

  8. tim maguire Says:

    The new version may be grammatically correct, but the old version sounded better and used better imagery.

  9. Linda Seebach Says:

    The linguistics blog Language Log has several posts on Armstrong’s a (or not) using spectrographic analysis, this being the kind of thing linguists do. And there’s a link to the Shann Ford paper.

    I think you can color the linguists skeptical.

    (sorry that breaks badly, rejoin the pieces without spurious spaces)

  10. rossi Says:

    def not as a good a ring as the first way

  11. J. Mark English Says:


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