Nixon’s ‘moon disaster’ speech

President Nixon’s speech writer wrote a speech in case Neil Armstrong and the rest of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission died on the moon, or in space. The text came to light back in 1999, but it’s a fascinating read following Armstrong’s death Saturday.

Landing a man on the moon and then bringing him back to earth seemed like an almost impossible feat. The celebrating began when Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and made the speech that will be remembered forever: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

If Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin died there on the moon, Nixon’s first words would have been:

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”

Nixon’s speech writer, William Safire, pointed out back in 1999 during an interview with Tim Russert that NASA officials were most worried about getting the astronauts off the moon and back to earth. The speech Safire wrote addresses that concern and explains the U.S. would not be able to rescue the astronauts.

“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,” Safire wrote.

Safire finished the speech describing how men used to look to the stars for heroes in constellations.

“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.”

Nixon’s alternate speech is especially poignant in remembering Armstrong because it captures the fear most Americans had for Armstrong and Aldrin. Some may take for granted the feat these men accomplished, but this speech shows just how worrisome the outcome was that day.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Matrix3692

    so politicians do have everything considered…… ha ha ha……

  • Joe

    Sort of like a reserve parachute. You keep one hand on it and hope you never have to use it.

  • tiger

    Even Ike & FDR had a D-DAY failure speach ready to go.

  • Thomas L. Nielsen

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that Neil Armstrong was actually asked by a teacher in college if he’d like to be the first man on the Moon.

    Armstrong answered “No. I’d like to be the first man to come back from the Moon”.

    Regards & all,

    Thomas L. Nielsen
    Luxembourg

  • How sad to imagine Michael Collins returning alone.

    • tiger

      How sad to be Collins period. Always the the forgoten “other guy.” The other 2 get the glory while you circle the block looking for a parking space.

      • blight_

        Agreed.

        Though I think it would be worse to be a guy like Jim Lovell, who was sent around the moon *twice*…once before Neil, and then slated to land on Apollo 13…never to return.

        Though I imagine being alive and going into space in the first place beats being dead.

      • dee

        He’s only forgotten if we neglect to recall his achievements and importance to the mission.

        • tiger

          The Average kid today has Only knows of Lance Armstrong. I Doubt I could find 5 HS seniors who knew the the names of the crew.

        • blight_

          Buzz who? Deke who? Grissom…like that CSI guy? He was an astronaut?

          lul.

      • blight_

        The ‘pedia alleges that Collins didn’t want to fly again after Apollo 11. Hmm…

  • Dean

    Very well written!

  • Splitpi

    Armstrong actually said, That’s one small step for [A] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    Though everyone heard it without the “A”, Buzz swears he said it as “a man” rather than “man”. Furthermore, audio analysis of recordings show a 35 millisecond bump in audio which coincides where the “a” should have been. This points to a radio communications drop or glitch at that precise time.
    http://news.yahoo.com/one-small-step-man-neil-arm

  • Dfens

    Too bad Nixon didn’t write a speech for the death of our manned space exploration program while he was at it. Back when NASA designed their own rockets we could go to the moon, and the expendable Saturn V rocket could be launched for less than Rockwell’s “reusable” space shuttle. We taught the world a lesson in the wonders of capitalism, though. The lesson is clear, if you pay a contractor more to fail, they will find all kinds of new and creative ways to fail, and no matter how many rules and regulations you put on them to ensure they succeed, they will always find new and better ways to fail in order to maximize profit. Funny how a nation built on the economic principles of capitalism could make such a fatal mistake and repeat it over and over and over again for decades, each time thinking that certainly this time the situation will magically get better.

    • The original concept for a reusable spacecraft actually started off with with NACA, the predecessor to NASA. These eggheads figured (within reason at the time) that is would have been more cost efficent to design a spacecraft like the Shuttle. It’s called government. Doesn’t matter if the economic principle is Capitalism, Socialism or Communism. The only difference is perhaps the former can “afford” it a little more than the latter.

      • Dfens

        The space shuttle was a failure of epic proportions. We paid Rockwell more to fail and they failed. It was supposed to carry 150,000 lbs to low earth orbit. It carried 40,000 to low earth orbit. It was supposed to be able to launch with very little refurbishment. It took nearly a year to refurbish an orbiter, the only truely reusable part of the shuttle stack. Both of these things contributed to the termination of our manned exploration of the Moon.

        The economic principle does matter. It matters that our free markets remain free. It matters that we don’t put the US taxpayer on the hook for the failures of for-profit companies, especially if we pay these companies more to screw up than we do if they come in with a vehicle that works like they said it would on-time and on-budget.

  • RodgersJ

    …so taxpayers are forced to fund expensive, full-time “speech-writers” for Presidents (and many other government officials). Obama’s current ‘chief’ speech-writer gets $172K per year, plus lavish benefits.

    What do these pricey speech-writers do all day ??

    The work-load is very light — they obviously have lots of time to create contingency speeches… for many possible events.

    Presidents should speak for themselves. It’s not a difficult task.

    • Tiger

      Shakespeare worked for a lot less. How much does the White House dog walker get?

      • blight_

        Dog walker is paid in tax cuts.

        “I will lower your capital gains rate to 5 percent, that’s money you can take to the bank!”

    • blight_

      Same thing in the corporate world. It’s not like the CEO actually doesn’t write statements that don’t pass through legal and a speechwriter (or goes from speechwriter to the CEO who approves it)

  • Pappa51

    First of all; a great American has passed away. I think that we should remember his family at this time. We have all lost a Hero in every sense of the word.
    Some one once said; Ordinary men are oft times called apon to do great things. I am not saying Niel Armstrong was just an ordinary man, But he rose up to do an extraordinary thing. I am proud to remember him as an American Hero; and a Hero for “All Man-Kind”.
    He will be missed.
    Now the Stars will shine brighter, Niel Armstrong is home at last.

    • Dfens

      Well said, and I’d add we should all remember we are made from matter created in the furnace of the stars and our home and destiny is there. The Earth is merely our cradle.

  • robert

    nice speech…no blame game included

  • Jsmith

    It really is a good speech. Was it Pat Buchanan’s work? We may not be able to determine that now.

    There was an interview released recently when Armstrong said he didn’t think they were going to make it back. What a hero, to go and do what he did, when there is a slim chance you will be able to return safely. Sadly, we have few such heroes today outside the military.

  • Woody

    For accuracy:
    the Saturn V was designed under the direction of Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with Boeing, North American Aviation, Douglas Aircraft Company, and IBM as the lead contractors. Von Braun’s design was based in part on his work on the Aggregate series of rockets, especially the A-10, A-11, and A-12, in Germany during World War II.

    • Dfens

      For accuracy, the Saturn V didn’t just appear. It was designed by Werner Von Braun, who worked for NASA just like the SR-71 was designed by Kelly Johnson who worked for Lockheed.

  • JSFMIKE

    Armstrong volnteered for a task time and time again as a test pilot, as his family waited not knowing the outcome, until he was back on the ground and called them. The Apollo 11 mission was played out on the world stage with everyone knowing immediately if it succeeded or not. The crew chose to go and others were ready to make more missions. R.I.P. Neil. You made me choose aerospace engineering over architecture. I’m also proud to say I’m an alumni also.

  • Stratege

    IT’s very sincere speech