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'In The Event Of Moon Disaster' The Speech Nixon Prepared If The Moon Landing Failed

Voyaging through the cosmic expanse carries inherent hazards, with myriad challenges capable of imperilling the mission from launch to touchdown. Despite NASA's prior successes in sending astronauts into space, Apollo 11 marked humanity's inaugural footsteps on an extra-terrestrial terrain and its maiden attempt to depart from it. The stakes were high; any malfunction during the lunar module's ascent could have sealed the fate of Armstrong and Aldrin, as there existed no recourse for rescue in such a scenario.

Contemplating such a scenario is sobering, even today. Remarkably, it was equally difficult to fathom at the time. "Americans had grown accustomed to happy outcomes in space missions, and so had I," recounted Nixon's speechwriter, William Safire, in his memoir "Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House." Despite occasional setbacks, notably the Apollo 1 tragedy that claimed three astronauts' lives, NASA's endeavours had largely been marked by success. It took a conversation with Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman to impress upon Safire the genuine perils inherent in the mission:

“But on June 13, Frank Borman — an astronaut the President liked and whom NASA had assigned to be our liaison — called me to say, “You want to be thinking of some alternative posture for the President in the event of mishaps on Apollo XI.” When I didn’t react promptly, Borman moved off the formal language: “—like what to do for the widows.” The potential for tragedy was underscored by the nature of the failure that was most possible: inability to get the moon vehicle up off the moon. … Disaster would not come in the form of a sudden explosion — it would mean the men would be stranded on the moon.

Fortunately, Safire's memo remained unnecessary as the astronauts returned safely. The existence of the secret contingency plan remained largely unknown until 1999, the 30th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing, when Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Mann stumbled upon it while conducting unrelated research at the National Archives. Aldrin, one of the astronauts, eventually read the prepared eulogy and later reflected on the experience: “I am proud to say that our mission accomplished the same goals—and brought us back home safely.”

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay to rest in peace.”

An AI reading of how the speech would have sounded.


To: H. R. Haldeman From: Bill Safire

July 18, 1969.



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.


The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.


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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