Damnit Jim -- I'm A Doctor, Not A Thespian

Today is the 30th 40th* anniversary of the most expensive flubbed line in history.  "One small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind."

This is one of the three "where were you when..." moments in my memory (moon landing, Challenger explosion, 9/11).  Actually, I have a fourth of equal power for me, but it does not seem to be on very many other people's lists.  That was the moment in 1989 I turned on the TV and saw people climbing on and partying around the Berlin wall.  I don't know if there was simply not any warning for this moment, or if I was in some kind of new job lala land and missed the lead up, but it was a real wtf moment for me, a total surprise.

* This is the second time I have done this in a week, dropping a decade in the math.  I think it is some subconcious process fighting aging.


  1. rob sama:

    40th anniversary. 1969 was 40 years ago.

  2. Barbara S. Meeyer:

    Another one I'll never forget (not for any historical significance) was the slow police chase of O. J. Simpson. I remember turning to your father and the other people in the room saying, "He did it, and he's going to get away with it."

  3. Michael:

    Damnit Jim — I’m A Doctor, Not A Calendar

  4. J COllins:

    Your choice of events are pretty much the same as mine. I was a few days away from my 4th birthday and my Dad came and got me, put me in front of the TV and told me that something very important was about to happen. I knew it was important for him, but it took a few years for me to understand why.
    When Challenger exploded I was on the transient ramp at Patrick AFB. I guess you could say that I had a ring side seat. I remember us flying around for several hours looking for any possible survivors and recovering several pieces of debris. I remember breaking several fingers that night when some smartmouth cracked a bad joke about what the acronym NASA stood for. My fingers didn't compair to his jaw.

    On 9-11 I was at work, finishing up a bill of materials for a lighting project that was to be installed in the mall between the WTC towers. I didn't see the collapse until later that evening.
    I remember being the only car on a bridge in Pittsburgh during "rush hour" and seeing an F-15 armed to the teeth flying up the Allegheney River.

  5. Bill Brown:

    My three were the Challenger explosion, Tienanmen Square, and 9/11. I watched them on TV transfixed and devoured every morsel of coverage I could get afterwards. The Berlin Wall being torn down was certainly iconic but the whole glasnost thing gave it a certain sense of inevitability. The Chinese protests came out of nowhere and really looked like it was going to topple the regime for a while.

  6. L Nettles:

    You are obviously too young to remember the assassination of President Kennedy*. It was on a par with 9/11, but even more frightening because I was so young. November 63, January 86, September 01. Shared grief, not quite the same as the shared joy of a VJ Day (for my parents) or the Fall of the Wall for me.

    *Just as I am too young for Pearl Harbor.

  7. Spruance:

    Believe me, there was no hint or warning. Everybody in Germany was totally unaware of what was happening, and most of the people I spoke to didn't believe it in the first place. When the pictures started to come in one HAD to believe it, but it didn't really sink in for quite a time. And some people think that it didn't al all.

  8. Star Geezer:

    Your list and mine are pretty much alike, but I add the Kennedy assassination (I was in 7th grade at the time).

    I will never forget watching Neil Armstrong step off the LEM. I was at college for summer enrollment, and about 300 of us were crowded around a 27 inch (or so) black and white TV in the student union. When he landed, the place exploded in cheers and clapping (it was an engineering school).

    As for Armstrong flubbing his line, I cannot imagine what was going through his mind at the moment, so I won't pick on him for leaving out the article "a". If I had been there, I would have probably stuttered and stammered, and finally said, "Oh, holy cow!!!"

  9. Dan:

    We're often reminded of Armstrong's words, but not so often the words of the second and third men on the moon (Armstrong's mission colleague Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad).

    Aldrin, stepping down off the LEM 20 minutes after Armstrong, said, "Beautiful, beautiful." Armstrong replied, "Magnificent sight out here," and Aldrin responded, "Magnificent desolation."

    Conrad, who stepped onto the moon several months later, was short of stature, and his first words reflected this. "Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

  10. Dan:

    One addendum - I just read on Wikipedia that Conrad made that joke to win a $500 bet with a reporter who had insisted that NASA scripted its astronauts.

  11. DMac:

    Along the lines of Tienanmen Square, I still recall the shock at watching Russian tanks shooting at their White House, in the middle of Moscow, in 1993. That they didn't pull the plug on CNN was as big a surprse

  12. Dan:

    The strange thing about 9-11 is that it happened right in front of me (we had a TV at work), but the significance kind of escaped me. It's like I went into a shocked state in which I was trying subconsciously to deny what I was seeing could really be happening. I was a financial journalist at the time covering the futures markets in Chicago, and as the morning went by I kept trying to stick to my usual routine, including calling up traders on the floor to get their opinion on what the markets might do. When a Chicago trader said, "People are leaving the building. Everyone's frightened because of this thing in New York," I remember being surprised, like I couldn't see why people in Chicago would be worried. And when my wife, who was at home watching public television with my then one-year old son, called to say hi (and obviously had no idea anything was happening), I talked to her like it was a totally normal day and never mentioned it. Like I didn't want to accept it.

    I don't know if this is a good or bad attribute. Probably bad. Studies show that in suvivable plane crashs it's the people who realize what's going on and jump right up and do something as soon as the plane stops that end up living. The ones who remain stuck in their seats, in shock and not realizing quite what's going on, end up dying of smoke inhalation or something.

  13. JohnAZ:

    Kennedy assasination - 7th Grade looking out the window, St Ignatious Grammar School Chicago

    Apollo 11- Freshman UIUC

    Tianemem Square - married 2 kids

    9/11 - Getting ready to fly from Phenix to Chicago

    White Sox win World Series - Bally's Sport Book Las Vegas

  14. Steve-O:

    I think that I only remember Challenger because my second grade teacher explained what happened and said, "This will be one of 'those where were you when...' moments." I found the concept of a "where were you moment" much more interesting than the space shuttle blowing up. I'd seen model rockets blow up, so the explosion didn't seem like such a novel concept. I'd never had anyone tell me, "You'll remember this very moment for the rest of your life," so that blew me away.

    Does anyone remember the Columbia burn-up like they do the Challenger? I still don't quite understand why the Challenger was such a big deal. Seemed more like your "run of the mill" plane crash. I'm surprised no one has mentioned:

    Iranian hostages released
    Israeli Olympians assassinated
    OKC bombing
    That time I scored a touchdown in 7th grade

  15. Steve-O:

    Just to clarify, when I wonder why something is such a "big deal," obviously it's about as big a deal as there is for the people involved and their families. But I guess I find events that affect regular Joes more impactful than when a something affects prominent people, especially those who knowingly put their lives at risk.

    The random mass death is always what really brings me back to earth. Maybe because I'm a regular Joe, so I can envision myself in an office building easier than in the capsule of a space craft.

  16. Earle Williams:

    "I think it is some subconcious process fighting aging."

    Sure enough. Probably the same one that makes me accidently drop a hundred pounds when reporting my weight.

    Weirdly enough, a remember-when moment for me is hearing/reading about the death of Princess Diana. Maybe just because it's fairly recent... walking into a local diner for breakfast.

  17. Mike C.:

    I'll second the fall of the Berlin Wall. It just didn't seem real. I'd also add Kennedy's assasination, Alan Sheppard's initial Mercury flight, Sputnik, and the failed Vanguard launch. And one more - Kennedy's TV address RE the Cuban missile crisis. That was a very scary moment, especially if you lived close to the absolute # 1 target, Washington, DC. I can tell you exactly where I was for each and every one of those.

  18. lazy:

    I remember all of the above.

    But what "grabbed" me was an NBC broadcast "Today" circa 1965, where David Rockefeller was siting in his Moscow bank via satellite.

    This was some time between 7:00 and 8:00 eastern time.

    I can't find on the web any mention of this.

    How could, during a "cold war," anyone establish a bank in the USSR?

    Welcome to the New World Order.

  19. Thomas:

    The Wall coming down is on my short list as well