The illuminated disks atop Adobe Systems' downtown San Jose headquarters have transmitted a secret message since 2012. On Monday, Adobe revealed that Jimmy Waters, a high school math teacher in Knoxville, Tenn., had cracked that code. The semaphore had been transmitting the audio broadcast of Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing in 1969. That's right, not the text but the actual audio.

New York artist Ben Rubin and Tennessee high school teacher Jimmy Waterspose in front of the Adobe headquarters building with Rubin's San Jose Semaphore project that Waters solved. (Sal Pizarro/Staff)
New York artist Ben Rubin and Tennessee high school teacher Jimmy Waters pose in front of the Adobe headquarters building with Rubin's San Jose Semaphore project that Waters solved. (Sal Pizarro/Staff) 

Waters discovered the project, San Jose Semaphore, last summer while he was looking up something about Thomas Pynchon's 1966 novel, "The Crying of Lot 49." The text of that work was the code originally programmed by New York-based artist Ben Rubin in 2006. Seeing there was a new message, Waters began trying to decipher it while watching and writing down the sequences online from Tennessee.

He discovered a pattern that led him to believe it could represent a space — or a silence — in an audio file, and when he graphed the results it looked like an audio wave. He dismissed that as being too difficult but came back to it and eventually ran his results into a program that would convert his numbers to audio. The first results came back sounding like chipmunks squeaking.

So he tweaked things and found himself listening to the historic broadcast, which ends with Armstrong's famous line, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"There was a part of me that knew I solved it, but I wondered is that really it?" Waters said. "It seemed so simple once I did that. But how could I just end up by chance getting the audio for the moon landing?"