Fifty years ago today, Americans huddled around televisions to watch Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong take the first step on the moon. It’s hard to watch it even now and not get chills:
But what if Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had gotten stuck there?
As it happens, President Richard Nixon’s White House was prepared for this scenario. Nixon’s speechwriter, William Safire, drafted brief remarks for the president to deliver if things went wrong. Though it is sort of weird to imagine these kinds of words coming from the mouth of a small, petty bigot like Nixon, the speech itself is really something, and gets at the significance of the moment in a far different (but no less wrong) way than Armstrong’s famous utterance—“one small leap for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Give it a read:
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.