The Real Story Behind Neil Armstrong's History-Making Line

By Eric Limer on at

We all know the line, but what about the story behind it? Neil Armstrong was always keen on telling folks that he'd thought up the historical words after landing on the moon, but before the walk. That is to say, relatively off-the-cuff. A new documentary tells a slightly different story.

According to Neil Armstrong: First Man on the Moon, which premiered on BCC Two on Sunday, Neil had actually scripted the words months in advance. Dean Armstrong, Neil's brother, reveals that Neil had passed him a note with the line written on it way beforehand. Dean puts it this way in the documentary:

Before he went to the Cape, he invited me down to spend a little time with him. He said "why don't you and I, once the boys go to bed, why don't we play a game of Risk."

 

I said I'd enjoy that. We started playing Risk and then he slipped me a piece of paper and said "read that." I did.

 

On that piece of paper there was "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He says "what do you think about that?" I said "fabulous." He said "I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it."

In the interview, Dean initially missed the "a" too, repeating the line as we've heard it so many times. Neil had always insisted that he had said the "a" and it had just been lost in static, and Dean corrected himself just moments after the quote above, saying the "a" had been present in the note.

And so that seems to be the story. Unfortunately Neil isn't around to confirm or deny, but it shouldn't be a surprise that he pondered the line before launch, though he might have preferred we all thought it was spur of the moment poetry. Missing article or not, prepared or spontaneous, it's a fascinating little story about a fascinating man's fascinating statement. [The Telegraph]