Study Sheds New Light on Moon Landing

Posted on: July 23, 2013

moon-landingWhen astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, he uttered what has become one of the most well-known quotes in all of history: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," or so we thought that's how he said it. A new study by researchers at MSU's College of Communication Arts and Sciences and Ohio State University suggests that may be a misquote.

July 20 marked the 44th anniversary of Armstrong landing on the moon and since then and up until his death last August, he said he intended to say "a man," not just "man" and thought he had done so. The new study led by Laura Dilley, assistant professor in CAS' Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department, suggests that it is entirely possible that Armstrong said what he claimed, though evidence indicates that people are statistically more likely to hear "for man" instead of "for a man" on the recording.

Numerous studies have been done over the years, using high-tech equipment, to determine exactly what Armstrong said. But the MSU/OSU team took a different approach by studying how people from central Ohio, where Armstrong was born and raised, say the words "for" and "a" and found that they tend to blend the two words together.

"If Armstrong actually did say 'a,' it sounded something like 'frrr(uh),' Dilley said. "His blending of the two words, compounded with the poor sound quality of the transmission, has made it difficult for people to corroborate his claim that the 'a' is there."

As part of their research, the team used a collection of recordings from 40 people raised in Columbus, Ohio, near Armstrong's native town of Wapakoneta, and found 191 cases of the phrase "for a." As it turned out, the length of the "r" sound was much the same when those people in the recordings said "for" and "for a" - a finding that seems to confirm Armstrong's version of events.

"We feel we've partially vindicated him," said Dilley. "But we'll most likely never know for sure exactly what he said based on the acoustic information."

The research team, which also included CSD research associate and linguist Melissa Baese-Berk and OSU psychologist Mark Pitt, presented its work at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics in Montreal, Canada, in June. Local, national and international media outlets, including CNN and ABC News, covered their findings.

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