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October 1st, 2006 - 2:53 pm

High-tech detective work apparently has found the missing “a” in one of the most famous phrases ever spoken.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words from the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, now can be confidently recast, according to the research, as, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The discrepancy has been widely debated for years by historians, academics and fans of space travel, with the “a” sometimes appearing in parentheses in government documents and Armstrong being listed on unofficial Web sites as being guilty of a momentous flub.

The missing one-letter word was found this month in a software analysis of Armstrong’s famous phrase by Peter Shann Ford, a Sydney, Australia-based computer programmer. Ford’s company, Control Bionics, specializes in helping physically handicapped people use their nerve impulses to communicate through computers.

On Thursday, Ford and Auburn University historian James R. Hansen, Armstrong’s authorized biographer, presented the findings to Armstrong and others in a meeting at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. They repeated the presentation at NASA’s Washington headquarters, which has long backed Armstrong’s version of the phrasing.

“I have reviewed the data and Peter Ford’s analysis of it and I find the technology interesting and useful,” Armstrong said in a statement. “I also find his conclusion persuasive. Persuasive is the appropriate word.”

Here’s the entire article. Full disclosure: Dr. Hansen was my history professor at Auburn, and is a prince of a guy.

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