IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER
Author, journalist and speechwriter William Safire was born on this day in 1929, so it seems only sensible to marvel at an amazing piece of correspondence he wrote in 1969. A real slice of history that never fails to move me. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth revisiting.
It is difficult to imagine a memo more chilling than this one, expertly written by presidential speechwriter William Safire on July 18th 1969, as the world waited anxiously for Apollo 11 to land safely on the surface of the moon. Sent to US President Nixon‘s Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, it was a contingency plan of sorts. It contained the text of a speech titled “IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER”, to be read out by Nixon to a hushed public should astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become stranded on the moon, never to return, and instructions for the President to call and inform the “widows-to-be” of the tragedy. As we now know, the memo was never needed; all that remains is an eerie reminder that things could have gone terribly wrong and that those at the top were very much prepared for such an unthinkably bleak eventuality.
To: H. R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire
July 18, 1969.
IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
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 the 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 the 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.
The above piece of correspondence can be found in the first volume of Letters of Note.