Neil Armstrong’s Eleven (or Twelve?) Iconic Words

Douglass and Lisa-Marie Hatcher
2 min readJul 20, 2019
Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Here we are 50 years later, honoring Apollo 11 and its heroes, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Who could forget Armstrong stepping into the history books by stepping onto the moon? Who could forget hearing his iconic words as he climbed down the ladder and said, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Or did he?

Here’s the exact verbiage from NASA’s file: 109:24:23 Armstrong: That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind. (Long Pause)

Wait! Rewind. Did you see what I saw? A bracketed “a?” Huh? Armstrong apparently said “a” man but we didn’t hear it.

I had no idea about any of this until the 50th anniversary of the Lunar Landing began approaching, which got me thinking about the quote. I began wondering how the quote came about.

Armstrong’s brother claimed that it was during a game of Risk that Neil slipped him a piece of paper, bearing the future famous line. Armstrong said something to the effect that this is what I’m planning to say when I step on the moon.

Of course, some people dispute this account. I’m not sure how you can do that if you weren’t there. But one person said he’s interviewed Armstrong’s brother many times and the Risk story never came up. I like the story and I believe it. Plus, it gives the game of Risk a whole new perspective, at least for me!

With or without the “a,” Armstrong’s words were memorable, shareable, and repeatable. It was a large moment and Armstrong kept it where it belonged rhetorically — in the heavens and beyond.

He could have let his actions alone do the talking, but he didn’t.

He could have described the event with facts only, as recorded in the NASA transcript: 109:24:48 Armstrong: “Yes, the surface is fine and powdery.”

But he didn’t.

Neil Armstrong captured a moment in time with words that were closer to stardust than words used merely to describe an historic event. Thank goodness Armstrong didn’t outsource his message, have it poll-tested, reviewed up and down the chain, and revised into obscurity. Thank goodness Armstrong was his own best wordsmith.

Eleven (or 12) words. One message. Singular perfection. Thank you, Neil Armstrong.

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Douglass and Lisa-Marie Hatcher

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