Pete Conrad Lands on the Moon


“He headed down the ladder while a color TV camera broadcast the scene to earth. Conrad knew people wouldn’t remember the third man to walk on the moon; there was no need to make up something momentous to say. But he did have a quote; in fact, he had a bet to win.

The bet had its origins in the heat of a Houston summer afternoon when Conrad and his wife, Jane, were by the pool, entertaining Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Conrad had known Fallaci since 1964, when she came to Houston to write a book on the astronauts. Fallaci never had any trouble speaking her mind, especially when it came to bureaucracy. And that afternoon she was convinced NASA’s bureaucrats had told Neil Armstrong what to say when he stepped on the moon. Conrad tried to convince her otherwise, but she was certain of it. Conrad persisted; he couldn’t swear that Armstrong had written ‘One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,’ but he was sure that whoever had penned it, Armstrong had chosen what he would say. ‘Look,’ he told his guest, ‘I’ll prove it to you. I’ll make up my first words on the moon right here and now.’

‘Impossible,’ Fallaci pronounced in her thick accent. ‘They’ll never let you get away with it.’

‘They won’t have anything to say about it, Oriana. They won’t know about it until I’m on the moon.’ Conrad had a good idea: Since he was nearly the shortest guy in the Astronaut Office, why not say….

When Fallaci responded, ‘You’ll never do it,’ Conrad answered, ‘How about five hundred bucks?’ They shook on it.

Conrad reached the last rung of the ladder, held on with both hands, and jumped. He fell to the footpad with a gentle bump.

‘Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but it’s a long one for me.'”

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, Andrew Chaikin, Penguin Books, 1994.

Apollo 12 first steps: