The Inspiration Behind Neil Armstrong’s Immortal Words

NBC reported yesterday that the modest astronaut who became a global hero after taking “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” on the moon in 1969 died yesterday. Neil Armstrong was 82 years old. The mission commander of the Apollo 11 took his historic flight with command module pilot Michael Collins and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin — who tweeted these words after hearing the sad news: “I know I am joined by millions of others in mourning Neil’s passing – a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew.” The always wonderful Open Culture has published an hour-long BBC documentary about the life and times of the astronaut, which reveals how Armstrong conceived of those famous, poetic words we will always remember him for. Head past the break to find out more.

Konstantine Solacoff was Armstrong’s closest childhood friend, and was even present for the Apollo launch. He told the BBC that Armstrong didn’t consider what he was going to say until he was actually on his way to the moon. Armstrong was apparently inspired in part by a boyhood game he used to play with Solacoff, “Mother May I?” — in which children ask if they can take “small” and “giant” steps forward.

Armstrong has said that the phrase was “kind of passing around subliminally or in the background” of his mind and was not something he really focused on. Solacoff does indicate that Armstrong had other muses, too. The connection between Armstrong’s early dreams of flight, a child’s game, and an incredible feat for all humanity makes Solacoff’s story truly touching. The interview starts around 5:55 minutes into the video, but stick around for the full hour if you can to honor one of America’s greatest.