Opinion: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin: the tragic speech Nixon was prepared to give
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Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon 42 years ago today. But what would have happened if tragedy had fallen on the Apollo 11 mission?
In 1969, Richard Nixon was president and William Safire was his speechwriter. The first spacewalk was a huge deal for Nixon, who was mired in a Vietnam quagmire.
In a piece he wrote for the New York Times on the 20th anniversary of the lunar landing, Safire recalled that Frank Borman, the White House liaison with the astronauts, told him that he should not just have a victory speech planned for Nixon, but something prepared if the mission didn’t succeed.
Frank Borman, our liaison with the astronauts, brought the image-making up short with: ‘'You want to be thinking of some alternative posture for the president in the event of mishaps.’’ To blank looks at this technojargon, he added, ‘'like what to do for the widows.’’ Suddenly we were faced with the dark side of the moon planning. Death, if it came, would not come in a terrible blaze of glory; the greatest danger was that the two astronauts, once on the moon, would not be able to return to the command module.
So Safire wrote this touching piece that thankfully Nixon never had to read:
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.
Fortunately that speech was unnecessary, and has been stored in the National Archives.