In honor of Neil Armstrong's passing, here's a look at a haunting piece of alternate history: a speech written for U.S. President Richard Nixon in the event Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin were stranded on the moon in 1969.
Fortunately, Armstrong survived the mission and lived out the rest of his days in peace on Earth. But this letter shows a shocking look at what could have happened if the first man on the moon had never come back.
Armstrong and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Aldrin and Michael Collins were brave men. Going to the moon was a dangerous mission, and everyone involved knew that there a possibility Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins could die on the journey. Luckily, Apollo 11's mission was entirely successful, but NASA took plenty of precautions in the event of a disaster.
Perhaps the biggest fear at mission control was that Armstrong and Aldrin could get stranded on the moon with no hope of recovery. Due to the complexity of the Apollo program, it would have been impossible to mount a rescue mission, especially considering that the astronauts were equipped with no long-term supplies.
So, in the event of a space disaster, speechwriter William Safire was delegated to draft a speech that Nixon would have read on live television, should Armstrong and Aldrin have found themselves stranded on the moon.
A transcript follows a scan of the speech below, courtesy of Letters of Note and the National Archives.
To: H.R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire
July 18, 1969
IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
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.
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT:
The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN:
A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer.
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