“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong
With only one day to go before the deadline of the Miami Writer’s Prize 2010 at midnight tomorrow we thought we’d reach out to all those polishing their texts and, in an effort to relieve any pre-June 4th stress, illuminate both how comparatively minor our endeavors are and how even major endeavors can fall foul of last minute nerves. Our case in point today is the famous “One small step for man” speech by astronaut Commander Neil Armstrong for no other reason than we chose an image associated with that speech to reinforce that there is only one day left until the deadline of the Miami Writer’s Prize.
Neil Armstrong “One Small Step” via thenatman
In the above recording from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission Armstrong is heard saying: “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind”. However, “man” and “mankind” mean much the same thing in this context.
Upon returning to Earth, Armstrong was quoted as explaining that he thought he had said “one small step for a man”, which as he was the first man ever to set foot on the moon seems logical. For many of us this matter passed without notice and pales in comparison to the conspiracy that America faked the entire moon landing in order to win the space race. For some however this discrepancy between what Armstrong said and what Armstrong intended or perhaps did say has sustained lively debate for the last 41 years!
Regarding the missing “a” various explanations have been offered. Some such as ‘perhaps transmission static is to blame’ or ‘Commander Armstrong’s Ohio accent meant that his “a’s” were spoken softly’ rest on the fact Armstrong did in fact utter the phrase correctly, while others presume that although he intended to say “a man” the “a” was lost due to psychological pressure.
Since the event a number of inconclusive analyses have been conducted in an attempt to setlle the case of the missing “a”, some reporting to find a pause where the “a” should be suggesting it was in fact spoken and lost, and others disputing such conclusions.
To settle the argument, Dr Chris Riley, author of the Haynes book Apollo 11, An Owner’s Manual, and forensic linguist John Olsson carried out the most detailed analysis yet of Neil Armstrong’s speech patterns. Their findings were presented at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June of 2009. Using archive material of Neil Armstrong speaking, recorded throughout and after the mission, and the best audio recordings of the Apollo 11 mission ever released by Nasa including direct copies of the original magnetic tape recordings made at Johnson Space Center, Houston (that were recently re-digitized to make uncompressed, higher-fidelity audio recordings that are discernibly clearer than earlier, more heavily compressed recordings used in pervious analyses) they concluded by way of a voice print spectrograph – that clearly shows the “r” in “for” and “m” in “man” running into each other – that Armstrong did not say “a man.”
“For me that phrase is of great significance,” said Dr Riley. “It has been an important part of my life and those words sum up much of the optimism of the later part of the 20th Century.”
Riley and Olsson concluded that Armstrong and his family members do pronounce the word “a” in a discernible way proving beyond reasonable doubt that “a” was never spoken. However, their analysis of the intonation of the phrase strongly suggests Armstrong had intended to say “a ” as there is a rising pitch in the word “man” and a falling pitch when he says “mankind”.
According to Mr Olsson this indicates that he’s doing what we all do in our speech; contrasting using speech thus indicating an appreciated difference between man and mankind suggesting that when Armstrong said “man” meant a singular man as opposed to ‘humanity’.
Also, contrary to popular belief, Riley and Olsson’s research suggests that these inspirational words were spoken completely spontaneously rather than being pre-scripted by Nasa or the White House – a speculation held by many. According to Mr Olsson, this supposition is not borne out by Armstrong’s body language and speech patterns.
It may well have been that spontaneity that led to Armstrong’s slight mistake. But according to Mr Olsson Armstrong may have subconsciously drawn from his poetic instincts to utter a phrase that, far from being incorrect, was perfect being that it’s rhythm and the symmetry of its delivery captured the mood of an epic moment in history.
“When you look at the whole expression there’s a symmetry about this. If you put the word ‘a’ in, it would totally alter the poetic balance of the expression,” he explained.
This makes Dr Riley feel that the research has made a positive contribution to the story of the Apollo mission.
“I’m pleased we’ve been able to contribute in this way and have hopefully drawn a line under the whole thing as a celebration of Neil and everyone involved with Apollo, rather than this constant little niggling criticism,” he said.
In conclusion, the age old adage of “say what you mean and mean what you say,” while it might have worked for Abraham Lincoln when he delivered the Gettysburg Address on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, was clearly not be the best policy at the end of the sixties. Having witnessed the ‘American historical influence pendulum’ swing from one pole of effective premeditation to the other of effective spontaneity we might do well to examine our own time and our current preferences. Typically, the very presence of a conscious attempt naturally besets any spontaneous affect, and today, holding in one hand a memory of George W. Bush Junior bumbling through auto cued terrorist propaganda on the way to regrettable conflict and in the other Obama’s eloquent, but at the same time almost too perfectly crafted bipartisanship we are perhaps too skeptical for either school. Perhaps then heyday for iconic moments, like comparatively under produced music or the kind of contemplative thinking that comes from the printed page is fast passing us by, if not well rotted in its grave. Either way, whatever is said, there are always those who seek to pick it apart, squeeze all joy and life from moments, force those who enjoyed those moments to question their own understanding of them, and for better or worse illuminate the aching black chasm opening like a Guatemalan sinkhole in the heart of humanity.
Good luck writing something compelling for the Writer’s Prize. Hopefully the judges aren’t as jaded by our shared propensity for bullshit, spin and mind numbing, dead end conjecture as I appear to be.
The winner of the Miami Writer’s Prize 2010, in addition to having their submission published, will be paid an honorary stipend of $800 dollars in return for a month’s worth of guest blogging (eight posts) on ARTLURKER. Entries must be received before midnight on Friday (June 4th).
Judged by a panel of distinguished local professionals and open to anyone from Miami, excluding those already on our roster, this year’s prize is held in association with Locust Projects, a leading non-profit art space located in Miami’s Design District (155 NE 38th Street Suite 100 Miami, FL 33137) where on Thursday June 17th we will meet from 7-9pm for an evening of conversation and light refreshments. For more information about this free event please call Locust Projects on 305-576-8570.
The winner of the Miami Writer’s Prize will be announced on Friday June 11th.
For last minute information on how to submit simply click here to download the official press release and prize requirements.
This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth.