Hoping for the Best; Preparing for the Worst


President Richard Nixon welcomes the Apollo 11 astronauts (confined to a mobile quarantine facility)  back to earth.
President Richard Nixon welcomes the Apollo 11 astronauts (confined to a mobile quarantine facility) back to earth.

When the Apollo 11 astronauts left earth for the moon in July 1969, it was the culmination of the best efforts to make good on President John Kennedy’s pledge to send a man to the moon before the decade was over and return him safely to the earth. Despite their best efforts, everyone knew the mission was fraught with risks.

With that in mind, President Richard Nixon commissioned a speech written by William Safire to inform the nation in the event that the astronauts became stranded on the lunar surface and could not return to earth.

It began: “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.”

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