Apollo 11 was a rousing success and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were able to walk on the Moon and ultimately, return to Earth.
But what would happen if they couldn’t come back?
President Richard Nixon, who delivered a message to Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins after the successful lunar landing, also asked his speechwriter, William Safire, to write a contingency speech should something go wrong. The speech was eventually delivered to Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman and is now housed at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
Entitled “IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER,” Nixon’s speech would address Armstrong and Aldrin’s widows, as well as the nation. “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” the speech starts.
The speech continues: “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, in a 1999 interview with Meet the Press, said Aldrin and Armstrong would be “abandoned on the Moon” and “either have to starve to death or commit suicide.”
“These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding,” Nixon would’ve continued in the speech.
Nixon would’ve gone on to say that “Others will follow, and surely find their way home,” but the memory of Aldrin and Armstrong would be honored forever, as “these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”
As the Nixon Library added, “Fortunately, it [the speech ] was never needed” and the former president called the three astronauts and thanked them for their successful mission, saying “because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world.”
Although the call was “unexpected,” as Collins said last month in an interview with Fox News, it was nonetheless “well-delivered and well-received.”