It’s impossible to mention Neil Armstrong without remembering his most notable achievement as the first man to walk on the moon. Since Armstrong’s death on Saturday, the nation has been recollecting that moment in 1969 when NASA gave the world its first successful lunar landing.
But, what if the first lunar landing had turned out differently? What if the astronauts never made it back? As fictitious as that may seem now, in 1969, it was a keen possibility. In fact, President Nixon’s speech writer, William Safire, created a speech for such a contingency and sent it as a memo entitled, “In Event of Moon Disaster” to Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Halderman, just days before the event.
In a 1999 interview with NBC’s Meet The Press, Safire discussed the circumstances surrounding the eerie speech, “At that time, the most dangerous part of the moon mission, was getting the moon module back into orbit and join the command ship.”
He continued, “But if they couldn’t, they would have to be abandoned on the moon, left to die there. And mission control would have to close down communication. The men would either starve to death or commit suicide.”
So, while most of the world anticipated the best case scenario, Safire planned for the worst by providing the president with words that would not only honor the lost astronauts but also give hope for future space explorations.
Although moving, reading the speech today is like glimpsing into an alternate reality where things turned out much differently. It can’t help but make you wonder what might have been.
The full text of the never delivered, “In Event of Moon Disaster” speech is below:
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”