In a depressing alternate reality, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin successfully landed on the moon only to get stuck there after a critical equipment failure. That thankfully didn’t happen 46 years ago today, but in 1969 President Richard Nixon and his staff had to prepare to that grim possibility, which is why they had a speech written for if Armstrong and Aldrin had been stranded in outer space.
“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 somberly begins. “These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edward Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”
The speech emphasizes that Armstrong and Aldrin’s tragic fate will not be the end of space exploration as it expresses confidence that humankind will be able to safely visit the moon and still be able to come home in the future.
“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,” the speech concludes.
Interestingly, the speech was written by William Safire, who also went on to have a prominent career as an opinion columnist at The New York Times.