Apollo 11: The speech Nixon would have given ‘in event of moon disaster’ (1969)

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The Rescue of Apollo 11 1969 - Moon landing back to earth

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

While Apollo 11 led to the first manned moon landing and returned the astronauts safely to earth (fulfilling Kennedy’s vision), there were other presidential concerns as Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were on their way — what happens if they don’t make it? Or if Aldrin and Armstrong were unable to return from the surface? How would this be handled?

As a contingency, White House speechwriter William Safire was asked to craft a statement that then-President Nixon could read in the event of a disaster.

Thankfully, of course, the men returned safely (see the story here: The first walk on the moon) and the speech was never needed. Instead, it was safely tucked away in the National Archives and preserved as a bit of history that never happened.

Nixon greets Apollo 11 astronauts

For President Nixon, in case of Apollo 11 disaster

To: H.R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire

July 18, 1969


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; the 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.

One small step: Everything that happened the day man first walked on the moon in 1969


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.

In case of moon disaster - 1969 Nixon Safire memo-1In case of moon disaster - 1969 Nixon Safire memo-2


Top photo: Apollo 11 astronauts leaving the capsule in their biological isolation garments after successfully splashing down in the South Pacific Ocean

Photo 2: United States President Richard M. Nixon was in the central Pacific recovery area to welcome the Apollo 11 astronauts aboard the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. Already confined to the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) are (left to right) Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 splashed down at 11:49 a.m. (CDT), July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet. The three crewmen remained in the MQF until they arrived at the Manned Spacecraft Center’s (MSC) Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL). Image credits: NASA

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