Friday, July 17, 2009

One Giant Leap For Armstrong

I know what I heard.

At least I was pretty sure I did, all those years ago.

I thought I heard Neil Armstrong say, “That’s one small step for man…one…giant leap for mankind.”

Even as a kid I thought Armstrong screwed it up, but when you’re on the air live in front of the ENTIRE PLANET EARTH in the middle of the SINGLE MOST PROFOUND EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY, well, you don’t get a do-over. So, I figured, hey he did what I would have done, he misspoke, he knew it, and just thought to himself, screw it, pretend like it never happened. Now, how do I scratch in this damned getup?

But Neil Armstrong has always insisted that he said “…a man…” and the missing “a” has become a controversy in its own right over the years.

However, if Neil Armstrong says he said something, well, odds are he probably did.

I mean seriously here, who are you gonna believe? Your ears? Or Neil Armstrong?

No seriously. He was a Naval Aviator. On a mission over Songjin, Korea during the Korean conflict he was escorting a photo recon flight in hostile territory. His plane was hit by antiaircraft fire during a strafing run and dove towards the ground. At 350 miles an hour the plane slammed into a cable strung about 500 feet above the valley. The impact sliced off six feet of his right wing. Armstrong pulled the plane out of its death dive and somehow managed to nurse it back to friendly territory. The plane was too badly damaged to land, so he ejected, over water expecting land in the ocean and be rescued by Navy helicopters. Instead the winds pushing his chute back over land and he came to earth in a field where he was eventually picked up by a fellow Navy aviator in a jeep.

All in all, Armstrong flew 78 missions over Korea in 1952 and was awarded the Air Medal. Twice.

Later, he became one of the best damned civilian test pilots who ever lived and flew just about everything the Air Force and Navy had at Muroc AFB (later Edwards) in the high desert of California during those heady days when Chuck Yeager was breaking the sound barrier. Armstrong himself flew the Bell X-1B rocket plane through the sound barrier and the X-15 into suborbital space and would have flown the X-20 Dyna-Soar all the way into orbit if the Air Force hadn’t lost it’s nerve and vision and caved into the bean counters and the missile-men.

He was widely considered to be a hell of an engineer, the best and most technically capable of the X-15 pilots.

He Commanded Gemini 8 and made the first ever in-orbit rendezvous and docking (with an Athena target vehicle) proving one of the steps that would be absolutely critical in the later Apollo moon missions. When Gemini 8 malfunctioned and began to spin uncontrollably, he disengaged from Athena, killed the malfunctioning jet, and piloted a reentry manually using the RCS thrusters.

And, of course, he Commanded Apollo 11 – and when the flight computer overloaded during landing, Armstrong took over and manually flew the LEM. The computer had been steering them straight into a boulder field and to certain disaster, Armstrong corrected the descent trajectory and with nerves of utter steel looked around for a better landing site and then flew the ship to a safe touchdown with Buzz Aldrin calling out their fuel state and instrument readings. When the Contact Light lit and they killed the engine there was less than 15 seconds of fuel left in the tanks*. Armstrong’s performance was so far beyond the safety margins that controllers in Houston were positive the ship had crashed - right up until they heard Armstrong report in a dead calm voice the first words from the surface of another world, “"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

So, you know, if the man said he said “a” then he said “a” and that’s good enough for me.

But, it hasn’t been good enough for a lot of conspiracy nuts and for a lot of historians. And even though NASA has backed him up for the last 40 years, you can tell it’s just because they’re being polite to the first man to walk on the moon and the most famous astronaut who ever lived and a man whose name will be remembered long after all of the doubters are dust.

“Sure, sure, Neil. You said ‘a man.’ No we believe you. We heard it. Sure, Buddy.”

I imagine it has always bugged the man. I mean, hell, you fly to the friggin’ moon, man. You do something that only twelve people in the whole damned history of the human race have ever done and you were the first. And what do people ask you about? Seriously, that has got to chap your ass in a major way.

Turns out Neil was not only right, he can prove it.

Sound experts at the Smithsonian analyzed the audio recordings of Armstrong’s famous (or infamous) statement from the moon and are pretty sure they’ve found the missing “a,” vindicating the astronaut just in time for the 40th anniversary of his landing.

That’s pretty damn cool indeed. Maybe it’ll finally shut the idiots up.

I’ve always wondered what those pundits who’ve criticized Armstrong all these years would have said, if they had been the first ones to set foot upon another world.

I’m pretty sure I know what I would have said. The followings is an actual transcript of what it would sound like if I’d been in Neil Armstrong’s spaceboots on July 20th, 1969 (If NASA was sending seven year old kids to the moon that is):

That’s [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] one [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] small [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] step [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] for [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] A [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] man, [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] one [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] giant [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] leap [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] for [Holy SHIT! I’m on the frigggin’ MOON!] mankind.

You? What would you have said?


* Later post-flight analysis showed that the LEM had about 50 seconds of fuel left when the engine shut down, not the 15 seconds initially reported, the moon’s lower gravity caused the fuel to slosh higher than anticipated and thus the faulty reading. Aldrin and Armstrong didn’t know that though, they both thought they had 15 seconds left and the later analysis changes their astounding courage not one iota – they were both steely eyed missile men of the highest caliber.


  1. Considering there are people who are claiming that all the moon landings were faked, it doesn't seem like much of a controversy. Personally, I always preferred the "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky" rumour.


  2. See, it's a good thing I wasn't the first man on the moon, because I, too, know what I would have said:

    That's... one small step for a... man... one great... what the fuck is that? Holy shit! I can see some kind of--it's like some kind of saucer, and a door is opening and something is coming out... it's some kind of creature, and... it's holding something, some kind of device! It's pointing it at me and--AIEEEEEEEEEE!

  3. It wouldn't have been anything as undignified as Holy Shit ,but more like Jesus F-ing Christ.

    But I was 21 not 7.

  4. Damn. Eric stole my idea. Oh well.

  5. I don't know. I think I would be too overwhelmed with awe for speech.


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