Armstrong's Accent May Have Hid 'a' in Moon Quote
The only full-body photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon shows him working at the Apollo 11 lunar module "Eagle."
Image: One Small Step: Armstrong's boot print
Remembering Neil Armstrong: Humanity's Hero
Aug. 25, 2012 --
Today will forever be known as the day mankind lost a legend. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon and NASA legend, died after complications stemming from a heart bypass surgery. He underwent the procedure two days after his birthday on Aug. 5. When news of Armstrong's death sunk in, the world joined in mourning, remembering the former astronaut's incredible life of exploration and discovery, culminating in the historic July 20, 1969 lunar landing. Armstrong's Apollo 11 crewmate and friend Buzz Aldrin called the former NASA astronaut a "true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew." As the tributes continue to roll in, it's time to remember Neil Armstrong, who wasn't only the first man on the moon, he was a talented test pilot, brave astronaut, skilled engineer and, above all, humanity's hero.
Image: Armstrong inside the cockpit of an X-1
Before joining NASA to become an astronaut, Neil Armstrong was a test pilot. On April 20, 1962, Armstrong inadvertently set the duration record for the X-15 aircraft, "arguably the coolest aircraft of all time," remarked Discovery News' Amy Shira Teitel in a July article discussing Armstrong's impressive test flight career.
READ MORE: Neil Armstrong's Longest Landing
Neil Armstrong checks his helmet ahead of the 1966 Gemini 8 mission that would see the first docking of two NASA vehicles in orbit. During the mission, Armstrong had to contend with a Gemini thruster glitch that caused a violent spin -- only through the skilled piloting of Armstrong did he and co-pilot Dave Scott return to Earth unhurt.
READ MORE: The Vomit-Inducing Gemini 8 Mission
Image: Armstrong piloting the LLTV. Credit: N
Armstrong's test flight experience was useful in the run-up to Apollo 11. Seen here on June 20, 1969 (a month before his famous mission to the moon) Armstrong pilots the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV). The year before, Armstrong had a near miss after a LLTV malfunctioned and he lost control. He was able to bale-out before the vehicle crashed.
READ MORE: When Landing on the Moon, Practice Makes Perfect
Neil Armstrong in a simulator during a docking study -- he is looking at the Lunar Excursion Module, which makes the lunar landing.
Neil Armstrong, mission commander for Apollo 11, suits up before being launched atop the Saturn V rocket in July 1969.
Armstrong in the cockpit of the command module on Apollo 11, on his way to the moon.
Image: Armstrong makes the first footsteps on
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." When Armstrong uttered these words on July 20, 1969, he elevated the whole of humanity to another rung in the evolutionary ladder: we had become a race that can land on other worlds. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden reflected on Armstrong's achievements on Saturday and saluted the former astronaut, saying: "As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero."
In this famous photograph of Armstrong inside the lunar lander "Eagle," Armstrong shows obvious emotion after his first moonwalk.
READ MORE: Neil Armstrong: What Really Happened on the Moon
After returning safely to Earth, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins received a hero's welcome as they drove through New York City. The legacy of that mission, and Armstrong's key role in it, inspired the world and still does today, 43 years on. "That legacy will endure - sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step," said President Obama in a White House statement on Saturday.
Image: Armstrong speaks after receiving the C
Although widely regarded as a private man following the his historic mission to the moon, in recent years he has become an outspoken NASA critic, urging that the space agency needs to invest in manned exploration of the solar system. "I favor returning to the moon. We made six landings there and explored areas as small as a city lot and perhaps as large as a small town. That leaves us some 14 million square miles that we have not explored," said Armstrong ahead of a Congressional address in 2011, pointing out that NASA's ultimate goal should be to land humans on Mars. In a statement released on Saturday, Armstrong's family had a simple request: "Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink." As you go outside tonight, take a look at the moon and remember that Armstrong's bootprints are still there, beckoning us to return and continue where the Apollo astronauts left off.
MORE: Neil Armstrong, Apollo Legend, Has Died: Big Pic
Did Neil Armstrong's famous first words spoken on the moon include the "a" in "one small step for a man" or not? Debated for more than four decades, the answer may be found in the astronaut's midwestern accent, researchers now say.
On July 20, 1969, Armstrong, together with his Apollo 11 crewmate Buzz Aldrin, made humanity's first landing on a celestial body other than Earth. Armstrong was the first to set foot on the lunar surface and proclaimed, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Back on Earth though, many among the millions of people who were listening heard the phrase slightly differently as "That's one small step for man ..." – the "a" was either lost in the long distance transmission or was never said. And without the "a," the quote might be redundant; "man" and "mankind" meaning the same thing. [Neil Armstrong's 'One Small Step' That Changed The World | Video]
A team of speech scientists and psychologists from the Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus and Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing have suggested it is possible that Armstrong said what he intended and claimed to have said, however people are statistically more likely to hear "for man" instead of "for a man" on the recording.
On Friday (June 7), the team will present the results of its study at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics in Montreal, Canada.
"Prior acoustic analyses of Neil Armstrong's recording have established well that if the word 'a' was spoken, it was very short and was fully blended acoustically with the preceding word," said Laura Dilley, an assistant professor in Michigan State University's department of communicative sciences and disorders. "If Armstrong actually did say 'a,' it sounded something like 'frrr(uh).'"
Armstrong grew up in central Ohio, where there is typically a lot of blending between words such as "for" and "a," the researchers' study found. His blending of the two words, compounded with the less than optimal sound quality of the audio from the moon, makes it difficult to confirm that the "a" was spoken.
Perfect storm of conditions
A 2006 analysis of the recording of Armstrong's first words on the moon attempted to resolve the question by using software to parse the statement. The study claimed to find evidence for the missing "a" in the audio waveforms.
Armstrong said that he found that earlier study's results to be "persuasive." Armstrong died last year at age 82.
The software analysis did not end the debate however, as examinations of the sound files resulted in mixed opinions about whether he included the indefinite article, the current study's authors wrote in their presentation's abstract.
Dilley and her colleagues, including MSU linguist Melissa Baese-Berk and OSU psychologist Mark Pitt, thought they might instead be able to figure out what Armstrong said with a statistical analysis of the duration of the "r" sound as spoken by native central Ohioans saying "for" and "for a" in natural conversation.
For their analysis, the researchers used a collection of recordings of conversational speech from 40 people raised in Columbus, Ohio, near Wapakoneta, Armstrong's home town. In these recordings, they found 191 cases of "for a." They matched each to an instance of "for" as said by the same speaker and compared the relative duration.
They also examined the duration of Armstrong's "for (a)" from the moon transmission.
What they found was a large overlap between the relative duration of the "r" sound in "for" and "for a" using the Ohio speech data. The duration of the "frrr(uh)" in Armstrong's recording was 0.127 seconds, which falls into the middle of this overlap, although it is a slightly better match for an "a"-less "for."
In other words, the team concluded, the "one small step" quote is compatible with either interpretation, though it is "probably slightly more likely" to be heard as the "a"-less "for" regardless of what Armstrong said. Dilley said there may have been a "perfect storm of conditions" for "a" to have been spoken but not heard.
"We've bolstered Neil Armstrong's side of the story," she said. "We feel we've partially vindicated him. But we will most likely never know for sure exactly what he said based on the acoustic information."
Beyond the moon
Other than shedding light on Armstrong's famous quote, the results have implications for understanding how people perceive meaning in spoken language, the researchers said.
"Every time we listen to speech and think we understand a sentence, we are performing a miraculous task, which is to take what is actually a continuous acoustic signal, break up that signal into somewhat arbitrary parts, and map those parts to our memories of all the words that we know in the language," Dilley said.
"We need only look at computer speech recognition and how it succeeds and how it largely often fails to see how very difficult that problem is," she concluded.
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