Nixon’s Letter That Was Never Read: What If The Apollo Astronauts Died On The Moon?

Apollo 11

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; 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.

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.
It’s been 50 years since mankind landed on the moon. The event is celebrated as a monumental achievement — the ingenuity of the human species to break the bonds of earth’s gravity and land on another heavenly body. From the world’s point of view, it appeared everything went flawlessly. However, the spectacular event was anything but certain.

The mission involved a great deal of skill and technology. Many things would need to go right in succession. Any number of small things could doom the mission. With the earth being nearly 240,000 miles away, no one would come to save the Apollo 11 astronauts in the event of a disaster.

In particular, NASA thought the highest probability of failure might occur on the lift-off from the lunar surface back to the command module floating in space. According to Business Insider, Former astronaut Frank Borman contacted President Richard Nixon’s speechwriter about this.

Borman told Bill Safire that would it would be a good idea if the President would be prepared to speak about a failure of this nature. Safire would go on to write the letter above, which would remain tucked in the National Archives until 1999.

In the event the lunar module couldn’t lift off, the live feed from the moon would be shut off. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would be left on the moon to either starve to death or commit suicide. Michael Collins in the command module would travel back home to earth by himself, in what might be the loneliest journey in human history.

A service similar to a burial at sea would be conducted in the memory of Aldrin and Armstrong. Fortunately for the astronauts and the watching world, there was no disaster and this letter was never read. However, things didn’t go as smoothly as they appeared.

Written by Barbara Sobel


Medium: Letter To The World After The Apollo Astronauts Died On The Moon
Space: If Apollo 11 Had Gone Terribly Wrong, Here’s What Nixon Would Have Told the Country
Space: What If Apollo 11 Failed? President Nixon Had Speech Ready

Featured and Top Image Courtesy Of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – Creative Commons License