President Nixon’s speech writer wrote a speech in case Neil Armstrong and the rest of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission died on the moon, or in space. The text came to light back in 1999, but it’s a fascinating read following Armstrong’s death Saturday.
Landing a man on the moon and then bringing him back to earth seemed like an almost impossible feat. The celebrating began when Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and made the speech that will be remembered forever: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
If Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin died there on the moon, Nixon’s first words would have been:
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”
Nixon’s speech writer, William Safire, pointed out back in 1999 during an interview with Tim Russert that NASA officials were most worried about getting the astronauts off the moon and back to earth. The speech Safire wrote addresses that concern and explains the U.S. would not be able to rescue the astronauts.
“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,” Safire wrote.
Safire finished the speech describing how men used to look to the stars for heroes in constellations.
“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.”
Nixon’s alternate speech is especially poignant in remembering Armstrong because it captures the fear most Americans had for Armstrong and Aldrin. Some may take for granted the feat these men accomplished, but this speech shows just how worrisome the outcome was that day.