This week marks fifty years since the first manned mission to the Moon, with Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the lunar surface on July 21st 1969. To mark the occasion, I’m writing a seven-part series dedicated to Apollo 11, the mission to the Moon, with this part looking at ‘In Event of Moon Disaster’ – the speech prepared if Apollo 11 ended in disaster.
With so much at stake and so much that could go wrong with the Apollo 11 mission, it was felt necessary by William Safire, American journalist and speechwriter for President Nixon, to prepare a statement called ‘In Event of Moon Disaster’.
This was to be used in the event that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became stranded on the lunar surface, unable to return home.
According to NASA, the procedure in such an eventuality would be to close down communications with the lunar module, with a clergyman commending the two men’s souls ‘to the deepest of the deep’. The two men would face the prospect of having to starve to death or commit suicide.
With this prospect in mind, this short, moving statement was prepared on July 18th, 1969 – two days before the successful landing on the lunar surface.
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.In Event of Moon Disaster
At the bottom of the note is a note that prior to such a statement being issued, the President would telephone each of the ‘widows-to-be’.
Ultimately, the speech was never used, with Armstrong and Aldrin successfully landing and returning from the lunar surface. All three astronauts returned from space on July 24th.
The speech has been dubbed one of the greatest speeches never made, and it definitely shows. Reading those words, imagining those two men trapped on the Moon with no prospect of rescue is chilling.