Today on Facebook the Science Museum (London) posted:

#OTD in 1930 American astronaut and aeronautical engineer Neil Armstrong was born.

In July 1969, Armstrong and Apollo 11 pilot Buzz Aldrin performed the first manned Moon landing. When he stepped onto the lunar surface he famously said ''That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.''

I though it was “one small step for a man”. That seems to make more sense.

Which is correct?

Clarification at mod request: please don’t answer with what you think the audio sounds like, because that’s a matter of opinion. There is professional audio analysis to cite (although a good answer would evaluate the strength, or not, of that evidence) as well as Armstrong’s reports of what he intended to say and what he believed he said.

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    @Daniel Yeah, there’s technical analysis of the audio, and Armstrong’s statements on what he said. If I were asking “What do people think they heard?”, that would be a matter of opinion, but I’m not asking that. – A E Aug 5 '18 at 12:27

It seems that he fluffed his line. He meant to say "a man", but inadvertently missed out the "a". It is also possible that the "a" was masked by static.

What did Neil Armstrong really say when he stepped on to the moon?

According to the authors of the 1986 book Chariots for Fire, the astronaut tried to argue it omitted the word "a" but after hearing a recording of the flight he admitted:

"Damn I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn't I?"

Neil Armstrong’s family reveal origins of 'one small step' line

It is the most famous and disputed quote in history.

Now, three months after Neil Armstrong’s death, it has emerged that the first man on the Moon wrote the words to mark the moment he stepped onto the lunar surface months in advance and had always intended to include the notorious missing “a” in the speech.

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    Yep, this was discussed at length at the time, and the above is a reasonable summary. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 5 '18 at 12:05
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    The microphones used back then were "voice activated". So sometimes after a pause, they did not kick in immediately, so that the very beginning was not transmitted. So maybe a pause "one small step for ... a man" might mean the "a" was lost. – GEdgar Aug 5 '18 at 13:15
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    @GEdgar - except that the pause actually came after "man" not before - try from 1:11 of youtube.com/watch?v=cwZb2mqId0A – Henry Aug 5 '18 at 18:20
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    I think he said "...one giant bleep for mankind." – copper.hat Aug 9 '18 at 4:04
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    Migh be irrelevant but found it interesting as the meaning changes a bit. In my native Turkish the phrase is recited as "Benim için küçük, insanlık için büyük bir adım" which translates as "A small step for me, a big step for humanity". – Ege Bayrak Aug 9 '18 at 6:19

More grist for the mill:

Despite his initial adamance that he got the grammar right by including the indefinite article, Armstrong acknowledged at a 30-year anniversary event in 1999 that he couldn't hear himself utter the "a" in the audio recording of his moonwalk transmission, according to the Associated Press.

But then, in 2006, computer programmer Peter Shann Ford might have vindicated Armstrong.

Ford downloaded the audio recording of the moon man's words from a NASA website and analyzed the statement with software that allows disabled people to communicate via computers using their nerve impulses.

In a graphical representation of sound waves of the famous sentence, Ford said he found evidence that the missing "a" had been spoken after all: It was a 35-millisecond-long bump of sound between "for" and "man" that would have been too brief for human ears to hear.

"I have reviewed the data and Peter Ford's analysis of it, and I find the technology interesting and useful," Armstrong said in a statement. ''I also find his conclusion persuasive. Persuasive is the appropriate word."

And so was "a," whether spoken or not.

This corresponds with my familiarity with spoken English: The word "a", in a context such as Armstrong's utterance, is easily "swallowed" -- if you really listen for it you can sort of hear it, but many people will insist it's not present.

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    Perhaps. But when speaking the First Words Ever Spoken On The Moon, listened to by millions of people, you would be wise to enunciate clearly! – Nigel Touch Aug 6 '18 at 12:07
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    @NigelTouch - Consider that when stepping off that bottom rung of the ladder you're not 100% sure that you won't sink 3 feet deep in Moon dust, spontaneously combust, or be eaten by a Moon monster. Enunciation is not the first thing on your mind. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 6 '18 at 12:13
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    @DanielRHicks While those words were uttered around when Armstrong stepped onto the surface, he didn't do so directly from the bottom rung of the ladder. See the mission transcript e.g. at hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11transcript_tec.html starting around timestamp 04 13 22 48. Armstrong said at 04 13 23 43 that he'd step off the LM, and "one small step" was at 04 13 24 48, a little over a minute later. Besides, I don't know what it was like in the 1950s and 1960s, but these days, if there's anything you learn even in aviation radiocommunications, it probably is to speak clearly. – a CVn Aug 6 '18 at 13:00
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    I always heard the "a" but it was kind of slurred into from the preceding "for"... so it sounds like "fora man" to me. – Luke Aug 6 '18 at 14:41
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    I seem to think I read something about his accent and how it's common for people from where he's from to flow their words together, so essentially he said "One small step f'ruh man", like "I'm going f'ruh drink", so really about enunciation rather than forgetting the word. Sadly can't remember where I read this or find it with google though :( – WhatEvil Aug 7 '18 at 10:54

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