( Or Maybe Three )
The news that Neil Armstrong's EKG is up for auction has been reported across the world. Having more than a passing interest in how language is used, I was looking at the different ways that writers have dealt with this story when the article by PC mag caught my eye. The image they posted was not the same as the one from RR Auction.
Here is one of the images I used in my news blog, from RR Auction's web page.
Here is a screen grab of the PC Magazine news article.
I traced the PC Magazine version of Neil Armstrong's EKG back to its source: Heritage Auctions of Dallas Texas.
How come there are 2 EKGs each of which is stated to be Neil Armstrong's EKG at the exact moment of stepping onto the Moon? Is a 'moment' or an 'instant' of such a great duration that it can span these two entirely different EKGs put together? Note also that they cannot be fitted together to recreate a continuous section of an EKG recording. The implication is that there is at least one more intermediary EKG strip.
Did you get that? There must be at least three unique EKG strips!
A problem with provenance
What I think is most likely to have happened is that a considerable length of EKG was snipped into sections which were then signed by Neil Armstrong and handed out to a number of people as souvenirs. There can be only one section for the exact moment of stepping onto the Moon. Other sections must be - however short an interval of time - from before or after that exact moment.
But it is still not that simple. Is it possible to say that any specific point on Neil Armstrong's EKG trace is a record of the exact moment of that first step? Not unless somebody marked the trace with a pen at the time - and we have no record of that happening. Sources of possible error in the recorded mission event times mean that nobody can say for sure that any snippet of Neil Armstrong's EKG is 'the one true tape'.
[Based on the times of transmissions prior to 109:24:12, Neil started to say "I'm going to step" at 109:24:12, stepped firmly on the surface at 109:24:17, and started "That's one small step" at 109:24:23. Readers interested in the exact timing of events in these transcripts should note that there are notable inconsistencies in the times given in the original NASA transcripts. Clearly, over longer intervals, times in the original transcripts are only suggestive. Discontinuous jumps in the original transcripts occur at notable mission events and elsewhere, probably at the end of tapes or tape segments used by individual transcribers. Over intervals of several minutes, the best audio clips can be used to get relative accuracies of 2-3 seconds.]It is a very strange world and a very strange language if 'unique' means 'plus or minus at least 2'. One does not expect a widely used English word to be in need of error bars. You know, error bars: the reinforcing bars of concrete science.
NASA Apollo 11 One Small Step
nothing in the foregoing article should be taken as meaning or implying that I would not buy one of these almost but not quite unique items at the drop of a hat if I were rich.