Saturday, July 20, 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 spacecraft landing on the moon, ending the Space Race and accomplishing a "giant leap for mankind." The U.S. landing on the moon using computers with exponentially less power than the smartphone in your pocket, is easily one of the most impressive technical achievements in modern human history.
However, while NASA was optimistic they could get the three astronauts to the moon, there was a large possibility that things could go wrong once the astronauts arrived. As it turned out, the most dangerous part of the journey involved getting the lunar module containing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin back into orbit to rejoin the command ship Michael Collins was piloting. If the lunar lander failed, Armstrong and Aldrin would have been stranded 238,900 miles away with no way for NASA to help.
To prepare for a possible disaster that claimed the lives of the Apollo 11 crew, President Richard Nixon's speechwriter at the time, William Safire, was asked to write a speech in the "event of a moon disaster" if there was an accident that left the astronauts stranded. The letter is dated July 18, 1969, two full days before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would take their first steps on our closest celestial neighbor and titled, "IN THE EVENT OF A MOON DISASTER."
Read the letter 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 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.
The speech has a note advising the president to call each of the "widows-to-be" prior to making the statement. It goes on to add that once the president completes the speech and NASA officially ends communication with the astronauts, 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."
Thankfully, the worst did not happen, and all three astronauts returned safely to Earth and greeted as heroes for their bravery. The nine Apollo missions between 1968 and 1972 sent twenty-four astronauts in total to the moon with twelve landing.
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