In 1961 President John F. Kennedy made this pledge to the American people: “We choose to go to the Moon and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”
And just eights year later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, did just that.
America put men on the Moon. The world watched as for the first time in the history of humanity, we left Earth and stepped onto the surface of another celestial body. On the night of July 20th, 1969, then President Richard Nixon spoke to the astronauts on the Moon by telephone, commending them for their achievement.
His speech marked the successful landing and first steps of the astronauts. The mission however was very dangerous, and while NASA had been preparing for years, there was always the possibility that something could go wrong, they could not lift off again, and Armstrong and Aldrin would be marooned. Liason to the White House astronaut Frank Borman reached out to Nixon’s speechwriter William Safire just days before and suggested that he and the President be prepared in the event that the unthinkable should happen. He said, quote:
“You want to be thinking of some alternative posture for the President in the event of mishaps on Apollo XI…like what to do for the widows.”Astronaut Frank Borman to Nixon speechwriter William Saffire – July 1969
If things had gone wrong, the story of our first steps would have been a tragedy, and the speech not of triumph, but of mourning. In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the day we landed on the Moon, the speech that didn’t have to be read:
In Event of Moon Disaster
Original Bill Satire Memo: