I mentioned a bit the other day about the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, and how mission commander Neil Armstrong had to take manual control of the lunar lander since the programmed location was determined to be a crater.
I remember that there were 2 components to the lunar lander; the lower part that got them to the moon, and the upper part that, once ready to leave, blasted off the lower portion to take them back to the command module, where Michael Collins was ready to dock with Armstrong and Aldrin for the trip back to earth in the Apollo capsule.
And I remember reading once Armstrong took manual control to find a suitable place, by the time they landed he had an estimated 30 seconds left of fuel remaining.
Just as with D-Day a generation earlier and Dwight Eisenhower had a speech all prepared should the invasion had failed, Richard Nixon had a speech ready should this mission had failed.
“You’ll want to consider an alternative posture for the President in the event of mishaps,” Borman told Safire [Nixon’s speech writer – Ed.] , according to an NBC “Meet The Press” interview with Safire on July 18, 1999.
At first, Safire didn’t understand what Borman meant — he told NBC that it sounded like “gobbledygook” — but Borman quickly clarified.
“I can hear [Borman] now: ‘Like what to do for the widows,'” Safire said. In short, Borman wanted a backup speech ready in case the Apollo 11 crew died.
And here is what thankfully the world didn’t hear, but for 30 seconds:
“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.”
Incidentally, the Apollo 11 lunar lander – complete with Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s footprints, was visible to a low-flying lunar satellite in 2012.