The late President Richard Nixon had a speech written for the worst-case scenario 50 years ago when Apollo 11 prepared to walk on the moon.
“‘You’re working on this moon-shot. You’ll want to consider a, uh, alternative posture for the president in the event of mishaps,'” Safire recalled being asked by astronaut liaison Frank Borman.
Safire said he didn’t understand the request at first until Borman added, “‘What to do for the widows.'”
The surface of the moon was an unknown factor, and the White House prepared for disasters that may have resulted in the deaths of commander Neil Armstrong, command module captain Michael Collins or lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin.
“At that time, the most important, the most dangerous part of the moon mission was to get that lunar module back up in orbit around the moon and to join the command ship,” Safire said. “But if they couldn’t, and there was a good risk that they couldn’t, then they would have to be abandoned on the moon. Left to die there.”
Safire prepared a speech for that scenario. Here’s the text of the entire speech:
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 their 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 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.
Additional notes at the bottom of the speech, which was dated two days prior to the moon walk on July 18, 1969, advised the president to call the “widows-to-be” before its delivery.
Fortunately, the speech was never used.
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