Six times the Apollo missions landed on the Moon (Yes, they did!).
Six times “first words” were spoken on the lunar surface. Most of them are not well known though.
What were they and how do they compare to each other? I put them into a sort of ascending (subjective!) order from “good” to “great”.
I`m sure your order will be different – let me know in the comments.
“And it’s been a long way, but we’re here.“
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. , Apollo 14
The space race was won and the “successful failure” of Apollo 13 was probably still prominently in people’s minds. Therefore – when landing safely on the lunar surface again – this simple, down-to-Moon sentence set a good baseline for what was becoming more and more the focus of the Apollo missions now: Exploring and understanding the Moon.
“Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.“
Charles Conrad, Jr. , Apollo 12
Well, what could you have said being the next in line and only 121 days after the “giant leap”? You would have had no chance to “beat” it. So why not use the occasion to prove that the first words on the Moon weren`t scripted by NASA. Conrad had made a 500 US$ bet with journalist Oriana Fallaci that he would make exactly this joke about his height while stepping from the ladder. Thus he showed that the astronauts were free to say what they wanted as their “first words”. He won the bet – but never got the money.
“… as I step off at the surface at Taurus-Littrow, we’d like to dedicate the first step of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible.“
Eugene Andrew Cernan, Apollo 17
Flying and landing on the Moon is not easy. It needs a lot of woman- and manpower. The Apollo program employed up to 400000 people that made the whole enterprise possible. And they had to be paid. So every US-taxpayer was involved in making it possible too. And someone had to get the ball rolling to make it possible. I think it is fitting that the first words of the last Apollo mission were dedicated to all these people.
“There you are: Mysterious and Unknown Descartes. Highland plains. Apollo 16 is gonna change your image.“
John Watts Young, Apollo 16
Prior to the mission the expectation was that the main geological units at the Apollo 16 landings site (the Cayley Plains and Descartes Highlands) were of volcanic origin. The mission showed that this expectation was wrong: The Cayley Plains as well as the Descartes Highland are large ejecta features, formed by rocks which were thrown to the location by gigantic impacts early in the lunar history. The first words on the surface during this mission therefore were quite prophetic. Although, you have to mention that short after landing John Young had already observed that something was strange with the rocks.1 So it was an “informed prophecy”.
“As I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley, I sort of realize there’s a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.”
David Randolph Scott, Apollo 15
In my opinion the best first words due to their poetic quality.
“There is a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.”
Could as well be the entry quote for a Star Trek movie or any other utopian works on the human strive “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Of course, missing in this little collection of quotes are THE first words. That is because you can`t really compare them to the others. Even if they would have been “This Moon landing is brought to you by Coca Cola” they would stand out, simply because they are THE first words. But of course I have to list them here, though not in competition with the other “first words”.
“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.“
Neil Alden Armstrong, Apollo 11
If mankind ever leaves this planet before annihilating itself, then these words will be carried with our collective consciousness to other planets, other stars or even other galaxies2. In a distant future, when all fairy tale books assigning humans a special place in nature by supernatural means will gather dust in the fantasy sections of libraries, this sentence will still be taught as a shining example for what really sets us apart – our will and ability to cross frontiers no one else3 could cross before.
The perfect line for the first “first words”!
1 “I wish I could tell you what kind of rocks those are Houston. But some of them are very white; and, doggone, if I could see…I’m not close enough to them, but…And I see one white one with some black…Can’t tell whether that’s dirt or not on it. But it could be a white breccia, if you believe such a thing.” Apollo Lunar Surface Journal
2 I`m sticking my neck far, far out here
3 “No one else” in this case means not other species. On this planet. As far as we know.