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The Speech That Would Have Been Read If the Moon Landing Failed

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Did you know the Nixon Administration prepared a speech that would have been delivered if Apollo 11 had ended in disaster?

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” as he became the first man to set foot on the lunar surface. Although the mission proceeded successfully, there was, of course, the possibility that it may not have. Future audiences would learn all too well the dangers of space travel in the aftermath of tragedies such as the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986) or Columbia (2003).

For this reason, then-President Richard Nixon’s speechwriter, Bill Safire, prepared a speech entitled “IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER” that the President would have used to try to console a nation in mourning. The text of the speech follows below:

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.

Erich J. Prince is a Co-founder and contributor at Merion West. Erich has written for a variety of publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hartford Courant, The News & Observer, and the Orlando Sentinel. His writing has been honored with two awards from the Columbia University School of Journalism. He studied political science at Yale University, completing his thesis on the history of polarization in the United States Congress. Contact Erich at

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