In his book Almost History, Rodger Burns reveals, among other things, the speech President Nixon was to deliver if the Apollo 11 mission suffered a catastrophic failure. It was written by speechwriter William Safire, and was to be delivered to the nation if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin died as a direct result of the mission. The speech was entitled “In The Event of a 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.”
As we mourn Armstrong’s passing, and marvel at the robot currently exploring Mars, it’s appropriate to recognize the very real, significant risk those men — and everyone at NASA — took in 1969.