o n e s m a l l s t e p
extract from the Haynes Apollo Owner's Workshop Manual
Christopher Riley & Phil Dolling
A Missing "a"
When it was first replayed back on Earth one of the most famous sentences in history appeared to be missing the crucial word “a”, changing the entire meaning of the carefully chosen words Armstrong spoke as he stepped onto the Moon’s surface. Numerous press articles and reports following the crews safereturn to Earth debated the controversy in the months and years which followed, with Armstrong always insisting he had spoken the “a” and NASA suggesting that perhaps it was somehow lost en route to Earth in the downlink or obscured by static interference.
Listen to the original audio
In James Hansen’s 2006 biography of Armstrong he is quoted as acknowledging that maybe he did get the sentence wrong; conceding “it doesn’t sound like there was time for the word to be there. On the other hand”, he continued, “I didn't intentionally make an inane statement, and ... certainly the 'a' was intended, because that's the only way the statement makes any sense.”
In September 2006 Australian journalist and entrepreneur Peter Shann Ford announced that he had found space for the missing “a” in the waveform of Armstrong’s transmission. Ford concluded that it had originally been spoken too quickly to be picked up and transmitted back to Earth, but this new analysis had still been able to detect the signature of the missing word. According to Ford the “a” lasted just 35 thousandths of a second, 10 times too quickly to be heard. But the shape of the sound wave, Ford felt, was consistent with the sound made by the tongue, mouth and lips as the speech transitions from the final consonant “r” in “for” to the vowel “a” and on to the opening “m” in “man”. Ford concluded that such a pattern would not be present had Armstrong moved straight from the “r” in “for” to the “m” in “man”, as he did later, with the phrase “for mankind” which lacks the signature Shann detected earlier for the “a”.
Subsequent more detailed analysis of the audio’s waveform and spectrogram by other researchers including the author found no such trace of an “a” within the crackle in the gap between “for” and “man” and concluded that the audio moves evenly from the “r” sound to the “m” sound in the same way as it does for the words “for mankind”.
Whatever the interpretation of the gap between the words “for” and “man” the fact is that Armstrong thought the word “a” even if he didn’t vocalise it, as confirmed in a 2009 phonetic analysis of the recording by Chris Riley and forensic linguist John Olsson. Listen here to the BBC's reporting of their work below and read about it at BBC News Online here.
Ford’s original 2006 work is published in a paper which and can be read in full here and as it was reported at the time on collectspace.com.
A further discussion of the issue and spectrogram analysis of the audio can be found at the Language Log site, here and here and from sound engineer Garth Wiebe, here
One of the fastest ways to get a heated argument going with a group of strangers is to bring up the subject of the Moon landings. Within a few sentences someone will always bring up the Lunar conspiracy theory. Perhaps this is a reflection of people’s understanding of how close to impossible it was to land a human on the Moon back in the 1960s. But it is more likely to be because of a lack of knowledge of the science and engineering facts about Apollo.
The notes below are only included in response to the countless times I’ve been asked these questions over the years by people who often want to believe in Apollo but lack the knowledge of physics and the environmental conditions on the lunar surface, which reassures the rest of us that Apollo was real. They are also aimed at those of us who are informed enough not to doubt the reality of Apollo, but who are sometimes lost for words when we do meet another less enlightened human being who truly believes that the Moon landings were faked!
Radiation - The first Apollo crew to pass through Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts, where charged solar particles are channelled by the Earth’s magnetic field, was Apollo 8. There was concern at the time about the sort of radiation dose they’d be exposed to and after careful consideration it was felt that they would be travelling so fast (over 25,000 mph) that they should be safe. By monitoring their radiation exposure using dosimeters which each crew man wore, the science teams back in Earth could confirm that they’d received no more than the equivalent radiation dose of a chest X-ray.
Flags - The American flags hang out from their flag poles on the Moon because there are wires pushed through the top seam of the flags to hold them proudly out horizontally. These wires were accidentally kinked sometimes giving the illusion that the flags were flapping in a breeze, but without them the flags would have simply hung down limply. Today the flags are likely to have been bleached white by the decades of strong sun light.
Dust - Clouds of dust didn’t linger around the lunar landers after the engines were switched off as there was no air in which dust could be suspended. In the vacuum of space the disturbed dust, blown aside by the descent engine, dropped straight to the surface again. This effect even surprised the astronaut themselves. Years later Armstrong recalled that "I was absolutely dumbfounded when I shut the rocket engine off and the particles that were going out radially from the bottom of the engine fell all the way out over the horizon, and when I shut the engine off, they just raced out over the horizon and instantaneously disappeared, you know, just like it had been shut off for a week. That was remarkable. I'd never seen that. I'd never seen anything like that. And logic says, yes, that's the way it ought to be there, but I hadn't thought about it and I was surprised." Quoted from the NASA History site.
Shadows - Also because of the lack of any atmosphere, light bounces and scatters from the lunar surface in a different way to what we are used to seeing and experiencing on the Earth; giving shadows a different quality and appearance.
Stars - There are no stars in the images because, despite the black sky (due again to the lack of atmosphere) it is day time. It is clearly day time because the Sun is shining, and you can’t see stars during the day because the Sun is too bright. No Apollo mission ever landed on the Moon during a lunar night because the astronauts wouldn’t have been able to see enough to land safely or explore.
Filming the lift off from the Moon - The launch of the Lunar Module from the surface of the Moon could only be filmed from Apollo 15 onwards when the Lunar Rovers were used as camera platforms. They were parked a few hundred meters from the LMs and the camera operator back at mission control in Houston, Ed Fendell had the difficult job of dealing with the 6 second time delay between pressing his control buttons to tilt the camera up to follow the lift off, and seeing the results of his work on his screen. For Apollo 15 and 16 he didn't quite get it right, but for the final lift off on Apollo 17 Ed achieved near perfect coverage of mankind's final departure from the lunar surface
Why can't we see the debris of the Apollo landing sites with telescopes? The very best resolving power of even the Hubble telescope would only be able to see an object around 300 feet in size on the surface of the Moon. The largest piece of Apollo hardware (the LM descent stage) is about a tenth of that size (31 ft across it's diagonal). So no present telescopes can see the Apollo artefacts on the Moon. See this reference for more information. NASA's Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter mission, launching in June 2009 has a horizontal camera resoluion of around 1 metre and will be able to photograph to Apollo hardware at the landing sites.
Why did we stop going to the Moon?- We stopped going, not because we never really went in the first place as some hoax proponents would have you believe, but because the public lost interest and with the Space Race won and nine flights to the Moon accomplished, financial and public support for Apollo dried up.
Finally, if you ever find yourself in the presence of a die-hard conspiracy theorist and want to put a swift end to their nonsense, just remember Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Mike Collins witty put downs at the end of our documentary feature film “In the Shadow of the Moon”. “I don’t know two Americans who have a fantastic secret without one of them blurting it out to the press, can you imagine thousands of people able to keep the secret.”
For a more complete rebuttal of all the Apollo conspiracy points visit:
w w w . c h r i s - r i l e y . c o m