The first moon landing 30 years ago went triumphantly right. But had it gone terribly wrong, President Nixon would not have been at a loss for eloquent words.
A memo tucked away in the National Archives contains a contingency speech to have been delivered if the two men who stepped on the moon could not get off.
It was to be used if they were doomed, but not yet dead.
"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace," begins the speech, incorporated in a memo entitled "In Event of Moon Disaster."
It ends with the thought that people will always gaze at the moon knowing "there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."
The memo is dated July 18, 1969, two days before the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin.
If disaster struck, Nixon was advised to call each of the "widows-to-be" before reading the statement to the nation.
NASA would cut off communication with the stranded astronauts and a clergyman would "adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to 'the deepest of the deep,' concluding with the Lord's Prayer."
But Armstrong and Aldrin made it safely off the moon, back into the command module with Michael Collins, and home. The words were drafted by William Safire, then a Nixon speechwriter and now a columnist for The New York Times.
It has long been rumored that astronauts landing on the moon carried suicide capsules in case their return became impossible.
The Apollo 11 astronauts spent more than 21 hours on the moon, as untold millions around the globe watched on live television during the more than two hours they actually spent outside the lunar module, on the moon's dusty surface. Collins orbited above in the command module.
The memo did not deal with what to do if disaster struck after Armstrong and Aldrin had joined Collins for the return voyage. It was geared to the moon visit watched by the world.
As it was, Nixon had the happy duty of putting in a call to Armstrong and Aldrin while they stood on the moon. "Because of what you have done, the heavens become a part of man's world," he said.
"And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth."
|President Richard M. Nixon.|
"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 thre 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."