Imagine: you're riding in a spaceship toward the Moon, cresting on the wave of history itself. What happens if you get there is anyone's guess. It's unthinkable that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could ever have done less than the impossible, but President Richard Nixon had a speechwriter prepare for the worst.
A million things could have gone wrong with the 1969 Moon landing. Every part was dangerous: the launch, the trip, the landing. Then, of course, the return trip back.
But what could have been the hardest outcome of all was if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, after landing safely on the Moon, couldn't leave. Faced with that horrible reality, President Nixon would have read from the pages below, a speech he commissioned from William Safire.
Here's the first page:
And a transcript:
IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
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.
At the end of the second page, you can see the missive also contains the following directions:
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT:
The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN:
A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer.
It's a chilling prospect, and hopefully one we never have to face.