James Mann, who's working on a book about Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, writes in today's WashPost Outlook section that in the days before the moon landing — 50 years ago next Saturday — "there were acute fears of a mishap":
"Officials in the White House and at NASA laid out lugubrious contingency plans in case astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, but then were unable to get off the surface and back to the space capsule.”
- "If that had happened, they would have been doomed to die there."
"The White House chief of staff instructed William Safire, then a White House speechwriter (and later a New York Times columnist), to draft a remarkable speech for President Richard Nixon to deliver ... if the astronauts were stranded."
- "Safire’s undelivered speech lay hidden for nearly three decades before I found it."
- "In the late 1990s, researching a book on America's opening to China, I was rummaging through the archives of the Nixon administration."
IN EVENT OF 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 family and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they all 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.
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT:
The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN:
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.
Go deeper: Read the full memo