Armstrongs Famous Mankind Statement Contradicts Itself

Last Updated on June 2, 2020 by


Yep. What Neil Armstrong meant to say was, “That’s one
small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” But that
isn’t quite what he said.

The radio transmission from the Apollo 11 lunar module
were of somewhat poor quality. If you listen to a tape of
the transmissions, however, there can be little doubt as to
what Armstrong did say.. After setting foot on the moon,
Armsrotrong pauses a second or two and says,

That’s one small step for man,
one giant leap for mankind.

The omitted “a” is a small mistake but a particularly
unfortunate one. “Man” without a preceding article means not
one man but man in general, mankind. So Armstrong said, in
effect, that’s one small step for mankind and one giant leap
for mankind. He managed to create a logical contradiction in
the first eleven words spoken while standing on another

The slip of the tongue is understandable. What’s harder
to understand is the way the blunder has been ignored.
Despite the massive buildup given the first words on the
moon’s surface, no major news source seems to have mentioned
the mistake, even in passing. Most newspapers and magazines
at the time reported the quote accurately but without
comment. The New York Times for July 21, 1969, noted,

….Mr. Armstrong opened the landing craft’s
hatch, stepped slowly down the ladder and
declared as he planted the first human footprint
on the lunar crust:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind.”

Life magazine didn’t print Armstrong’s historic words,
an unusual omission, even for a picture magazine.

Other sources have become more charitable yet (see
table). Quite a few respectable sources now give a corrected
version of the line. The 1980 version of the Encyclopaedia
Britannica says,

At 10:56 PM EDT, July 20, 1969, Armstrong stepped
from the “Eagle” onto the Moon’s dusty surface with
the words, “That’s one small step for a man, one
giant leap for mankind.”

Accurate Quote
but No Mention

of Mistake “Corrected” Quote No Quote

The New York Times Encyclopaedia Britannica Life
The Washington Post Encyclopedia Americana
The Lost Angeles Times Collier’s Encyclopedia
Time World Book Encylopedia
Newsweek (written by Wernher
Famous First Facts von Braun)
People’s Almanac
Reader’s Digest
National Geographic
(article by Aldrin,
Armstrong, and

A search of reference sources found only one complete
account of Armstrong’s words. This was in the relatively
obscure Academic American Encyclodedia, 1980 edition. David
Dooling’s entry on Neil Armstrong gives the real story:

….He planted his left foot on the lunar surface
and proclaimed: ‘That’s one small step for [a] man,
one giant leap for mankind.” He later said that he
intended to say “a”, but static on the tapes leaves
this detail uncertain.

-from ‘Big Secrets’ by William Poundstone

{The Mother Thing}