When man first landed on the moon 30 years ago, President Richard M. Nixon had a speech all ready in case man could not get off the moon again. Nixon would have delivered a poignant tribute while the astronauts were still alive but when there was no longer any hope for them.
"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace," says the statement, incorporated in a memo entitled "In Event of Moon Disaster." The memo is dated July 18, 1969, two days before the moon landing.
Fortunately, Nixon never had to read the statement drafted by William Safire, then a Nixon speechwriter and now a columnist for the New York Times. Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin made it safely off the moon, back into the Command Module with Michael Collins, and home.
The memo ended up in the National Archives and was reported last week by the Los Angeles Times. Safire did not return a phone call seeking comment.
According to the memo, in the event of disaster Nixon was advised to call each of the "widows-to-be" before reading the statement to the nation.
Then the National Aeronautics Space Administration would cut off communication with the stranded astronauts and a clergyman would "adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to `the deepest of the deep,' concluding with the Lord's Prayer."
It has long been rumored that astronauts landing on the moon carried suicide capsules in case their return became impossible.
The Apollo 11 astronauts spent more than 21 hours on the moon, watched on television by millions around the world. Nixon had the happy duty of putting in a phone call to them while they stood on the dusty lunar surface.
But had something gone terribly wrong with the moonwalk and only Collins, still in the Command Module, had been able to return, these words were prepared:
"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."