One Small Step for Man

THE MOON: July 20, 1969 – One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind…

It’s the most famous quote that never was. Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on first setting foot on the moon, fluffed his lines, it’s beyond doubt beyond his protestations that it was a glitch in the radio transmission between the moon and earth. Just listen to the tapes, there’s no hesitation, no crackle between “for” and “man”. Analysis of his Ohio accent too shows that the inflections in his voice are perfectly clear what he intended to say, but he got it ever so slightly wrong and said:

One small step for man…PAUSE…one giant leap for mankind

If there were sound in the vacuum of the lunar surface you would have heard the tumbleweed rolling by as ground control realized he’d fluffed it. That telling pause was an inaudible groan as Armstrong, in making humanity’s biggest leap of faith so far in his history, recognized that he’d go down in history as not the first man on the moon, but the first cosmic blooper.

Armstrong’s fluffed line might seem like an unfortunate start to the Apollo 11 moneyshot, the most quotable of quotes was not perfect, but there is one redeeming feature of the missing indefinite article. It essentially proves the conspiracy theorists wrong.

Seemingly, there are thousands of people out there who believe that the moon landings were an incredibly elaborate hoax. A hoax presumably set up to cheat the Soviets of any victory in space at the height of the Cold War. There’s supposedly lots of evidence to support the conspiracy theory: implausibly high photographic quality, camera cross hair positioning, the lack of stars in the lunar sky, inconsistencies in lunar shadows, photographic hot spots caused by spotlighting, etc etc.

Despite the fact that all of this so-called evidence, however, has been dismantled scientifically is irrelevant to the conspiracy theorists. But, that Armstrong quote nails it. Think about it…you’re directing the most elaborate movie ever, one that might change the course of human history, you’d want to get it right, not just right perfect, so that future generations would be convinced totally of the authenticity of the events you were laying down on film. What would be the first word that would come from your directorial mouth do if the lead actor fluffed the seminal line in your movie. It’s moonolog equivalent of the “to be, or not to be” moment in Hamlet, Darth Vader’s “No, I am your father”, Woody Allen’s “sex with someone I love”…

You’d yell, “CUT!!!!!!!!!” at the top of your voice, and probably a few major and minor expletives some of which which might be mistaken for that directorial command. You’d do a re-take, surely? You’d want Armstrong to get his lines right, you’d want to hear…

That’s one small step for a man…TINY SUSPENSE-INDUCING PAUSE…one giant leap for mankind.

It’s the clincher for me as a movie fan. Armstrong got his lines wrong, there was no chance for a re-take, the lunar landings are real, there is no conspiracy, the US won the race against the USSR to put a man on the moon.