I really enjoy reading history, even fairly recent history, when I can get some sort of a perspective on what it must have been like to be part of it and, along with that, some understanding of what was really at stake during a particular time or event. Success has a way of making us forget that there are always two sides to the coin. Had the first landing on the moon not been a success, it would have been a devastating failure. A prudent and realistic person, will, usually, be prepared for both.
Though this little piece of history was revealed some 20 years ago, I had not heard about it until today.
When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, some 50 1/2 years ago, of course there were no guarantees of success. Even after a successful landing, there was still the possibility that the LEM would not be able to leave the moon’s atmosphere again. If for some reason Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could not leave, there was no hope for any sort of rescue mission. Being isolated (the ultimate social distancing) on the moon would be a death sentence for both of them.
Several weeks prior to the mission, Apollo 8 astronaut, and one of my future CEOs, Frank Borman, convinced William Safire, Richard Nixon’s then speechwriter, to write a speech that President Nixon could give, should the worst happen.
This is that speech…
“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 heroe 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.“
You can read a copy of the typewritten speech at the National Archives.