Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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In Event of Moon Disaster; the contingent epitaph

It has been more than forty years since man first walked on the moon. In less than ten years, NASA hopes to repeat the mission and deploy astronauts on the lunar surface once more. The risks today are no less substantial than they were in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed. Although technology has improved, there is still the ever present danger of being stranded on the moon, cut off from civilisation and rescue. In 1969, contingencies were made in response to this possible situation. On 20 July 1969, in the event of such an appalling tragedy, the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, would himself address the nation and broadcast an epitaph in congratulation. Although the speech was never used, the document serves as a fascinating reminder of the ever present danger posed on those wishing to explore the astrological limits of our world and the frightening possibilities to befall those that dare to try.
With the mission fully underway, analysts and key NASA staff conversed with those at the White House, discussing measures to be taken should the very worst happen. President Nixon’s aides, H. R. Haldeman and Peter Flanigan were in direct supervision of its requirements. William Safire was charged, therefore, with the actual script writing. Once the spacecraft had entered the lunar orbit, and the action for landing on the surface was initiated, the world held its breath. According to the account written by Safire, however, that was not the riskiest phase:
“The most dangerous part of the trip was not landing the little module on the moon, but in launching it back up to the mother ship. If that failed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could not be rescued. Mission Control would have to ''close down communications'' and, as the world agonized, let the doomed astronauts starve to death or commit suicide.”

The entire speech, written on 18 July 1969, can be viewed in the following transcript; the original typesetter notes are included thereafter:
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.
The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.

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.


William Safire’s entire account can be read online:
William Safire, “Essay; Disaster Never Came,” The New York Times, 12 July 1999. Copyright © 1999-2012 The New York Times Company.
Statement for President Nixon to read in case the astronauts were stranded on the Moon, July 18, 1969, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Nixon Presidential Materials Staff Public Domain Dedication.
All copyrighted material used in this article or cited by this website is the property of their respective owners and in no way accepts any responsibility for an infringement on one of the above.
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