Monday, November 07, 2005

Neil Armstrong And His Famous One-liner

Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, set one foot on the moon and was supposed to say, "That's one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” But he flubbed the line. What Armstrong said scans better, but makes no sense: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. In that sentence, man and mankind mean the same thing. But nevermind. NASA immediately started the old political cover-up and claimed Armstrong really had said, “a man”, it’s just that the “a” was buried under static. And Armstrong backed NASA up saying he’s pretty sure he said the “a” but it got lost in space. But that’s all old news. The new news is that Armstrong is now 75 years old and James Hansen, an Auburn University (Montgomery, AL) history professor who grew up in Indiana has come out with a Neil Armstrong biography, called "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," The media blitz started last night on “60 Minutes”. I had thought it was pretty much accepted that NASA had scripted the now-famous one-liner. But once again, Armstrong said on “60 Minutes” that he had written the little gem himself. He had an epiphany while on the space flight to the moon. And Hansen repeats the old story that Armstrong was the author, but suggests he may have been influenced by Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, or Dwight Eisenhower who said in 1957 that Sputnik was a call for "a giant leap into outer space." I don’t think for a minute that Neil Armstrong thought up that line. NASA and the United States government aren’t that sloppy about PR. They would never have taken the chance that an astronaut whose lifetime experience had been living in one small town in Ohio after another, might step out of the moon pod and say, “Hi Mom. I got here OK.” I have no idea who wrote the line, but William Safire was a White House speechwriter at the time and he wrote the snippet for the plaque that was placed on the moon that day: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D.” I’m not a fan of Safire’s, but I do like it that he admitted he’d made a mistake on that plaque. The “A.D.” should have gone before 1969, not after, he said. In the end, so what? Why not let the first man to set foot on the moon have his day in the sun. He’s been a quiet man, a self-effacing man, a man who minded his own business for the last 36 years. Does it matter whether he actually authored one of the most oft-repeated phrases ever quoted? It matters.

No comments: