(NEW YORK) — In all of modern history, perhaps no man has ever been so much on the spot as Neil Armstrong. From Jan. 9, 1969, when NASA announced that he would attempt the first moonwalk, to July 20, when he actually did it, the world wondered what he would say to mark the moment.
We all know the answer now, sort of: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (He admitted after the flight that he was trying to say, “That’s one small step for a man,” and the “a” got lost in static.) He told interviewers, the few times he spoke for the record, that he didn’t settle on what to say until after the Apollo 11 landing ship Eagle was safely on the lunar surface and it was time to suit up for the moonwalk.
Now, in a BBC documentary, Armstrong’s younger brother Dean is quoted as saying that Neil tried the line out on him months before the flight, one night during a family visit when the two were playing the board game Risk.
During the game, says Dean in the documentary, “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.'”
Dean then corrected himself: “It was, ‘That is one small step for a man.'”
All this might be a curious little nugget for historians, but for now, Dean Armstrong’s interview has set the world’s headlines ablaze.
James R. Hansen, the author of Armstrong’s authorized biography, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, said, “I don’t think his brother had any idea” he would set off suggestions of lying, but he has his doubts about Dean’s story.
“I talked to Dean,” said Hansen in a telephone interview, “and in 43 years the man never told that story.” Hansen said he’s now spoken to Neil’s son Rick, who suggests there’s a way to reconcile his uncle’s recollection and his father’s story — perhaps that Armstrong thought about what to say but put it off until the last minute.
“Neil was not the kind of person who ever lied,” said Hansen. “He could avoid certain questions, but he never outright lied.”
Armstrong died in August 2012.
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