In July 1969, the world watched and nervously waited for Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to maneuver their Lunar Module to the surface of the Moon -- an engineering feat previously only dreamed about in science fiction. So it’s not surprising to learn there was a contingency PR plan in case the historic mission failed. A speech was ready to be delivered by President Richard Nixon if the astronauts became stranded on the lunar surface. So, if the worst had happened, instead of remembering “one giant leap for mankind,” we might recall the opening sentence of Nixon's worst-case scenario speech: “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace.”
Prepared for the worst:
- Speechwriter William Safire, who would go on to have a Pulitzer Prize-winning career at The New York Times, crafted the words that Nixon never had to deliver.
- Now stored in the National Archives, the existence of Nixon’s speech first surfaced in 1999, the 30th anniversary of the lunar landing.
- If the Lunar Module launch had failed, it was expected that the stranded astronauts would slowly starve to death -- or die from what Safire termed “deliberately ‘closed down communications’" -- a euphemism for suicide.