NPR

The Eulogy That Wasn't: The Fate Neil Armstrong Evaded

Neil Armstrong casts a shadow in a photograph he took of the lunar lander Eagle near the end of his historic moonwalk. (NASA)

On July 18, 1969, President Nixon's speechwriter Bill Safire drafted a statement — a just-in-case statement. The manned mission to the Moon was only days away. The White House was preparing for all contingencies. According to Safire, the chances of getting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin onto the moon were pretty good.

It was getting them off the moon that was risky. There was chance, and it wasn't a remote chance, that the two men would be unable to leave the moon, that NASA would have to abandon them, and let them die there. Thus this memo, which begins, "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace."

The title of his memo. "In the event of moon disaster." The memo was released three decades later:

"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."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Most Popular