FILE - In undated photo provided by NASA shows Neil Armstrong. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he has died at age 82. A statement from the family says he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. It doesn't say where he died. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (AP Photo/NASA)
Upon taking a "small step" onto the surface of the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered what would become one of history's most famous one-liners. But strangely, what he actually said is far from clear.
Listeners back on Earth heard, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But Armstrong, who died Saturday (Aug. 25) at the age of 82, maintained afterwards that he actually said something slightly different: "That's one small step for a man..."
"It's just that people just didn't hear [the 'a']," Armstrong told the press after the Apollo 11 mission.
That little indefinite article makes a big difference, semantically speaking. Without it, "man" abstractly represents all of humanity, just like "mankind." Thus, the quote is essentially, ''That's one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind." [Listen to 'One Small Step' Quote]
Despite his initial adamance that he got the grammar right by including the indefinite article, Armstrong acknowledged at a 30-year anniversary event in 1999 that he couldn't hear himself utter the "a" in the audio recording of his moonwalk transmission, according to the Associated Press.
But then, in 2006, computer programmer Peter Shann Ford might have vindicated Armstrong.
Ford downloaded the audio recording of the moon man's words from a NASA website and analyzed the statement with software that allows disabled people to communicate via computers using their nerve impulses.
In a graphical representation of sound waves of the famous sentence, Ford said he found evidence that the missing "a" had been spoken after all: It was a 35-millisecond-long bump of sound between "for" and "man" that would have been too brief for human ears to hear.
"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."
And so was "a," whether spoken or not.
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