Neil Armstrong's 'small step for man' might be a misquote, study says

Neil Armstrong's famous quote analyzed
Neil Armstrong's famous quote analyzed

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Story highlights

  • Armstrong was heard around the world calling the first moon walk a "small step for man"
  • He contended he had said "a man"
  • Numerous studies have been carried out
  • A new study of speech patterns near his hometown found he may have said "for a"

When astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered what became one of the best-known -- and most debated -- quotes in all of history, he actually might have said it exactly the way he meant to, not the way people heard it.

After Armstrong lowered his left foot from the landing craft to the surface of the moon, people watching around the world heard him call it "one small step for man."

Both he and NASA initially insisted that he said "one small step for a man," and now a new and novel study on the much-analyzed quote backs him up.

Researchers from Michigan State University and Ohio State University have "bolstered Neil Armstrong's side of the story," said Laura Dilley, an MSU assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders.

After becoming the first person to step on the moon in 1969, Armstrong said what was heard as: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

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2009: Hear from astronaut Neil Armstrong
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You can hear the audio here.

Later, as NASA explains, Armstrong said he had intended to say "a man," and thought he had. But he agreed that "a" did not seem audible in the recording.

Numerous intense studies have been carried out over the years, using high-tech equipment, all in the effort to discover whether he had indeed uttered that one little sound.

In 2006, Peter Shann Ford said he had found the "a" in a study of the audio waveform, NASA explains. Then, "more rigorous analyses of the transmission were undertaken by people with professional experience with audio waveforms and, most importantly, audio spectrograms. None of these analyses support Ford's conclusion."

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Until now, perhaps.

The MSU and OSU researchers took what they call a novel approach: studying how people from Armstrong's native central Ohio pronounce "for" and "for a."

The team studied recordings of 40 people in Columbus, near Armstrong's native town of Wapakoneta. They found numerous examples of "for" and "for a" sounding similar.

Their results suggest that it is entirely possible that Armstrong said what he claimed, though evidence indicates that people are statistically more likely to hear 'for man' instead of 'for a man' on the recording," Michigan State University said in a news release.

"We feel we've partially vindicated him," Dilley said. "But we'll most likely never know for sure exactly what he said."

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