The 1969 moon landing was one of humanity's most impressive achievements, but there was always a chance that things could go terribly wrong. But if the worst happened, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were commended to the void of space, Nixon had a stirring speech prepared, one that celebrated the spirit of exploration and the nobility of our lunar dreams.
The Apollo 11 mission was not without uncertainty. NASA feared that Armstrong and Aldrin would not be able to launch the lunar module from the moon to join the command module. If the module failed to launch, Armstrong and Aldrin would have been stuck on the moon, condemned to run out of air hundreds of thousands of kilometers from home.
Thankfully, it never came to that, but just in case, William Safire, Nixon's speech writer who would later write the "On Language" column for the New York Times Magazine, penned a short but lovely speech. Even though it was never used, the speech is a fitting tribute to the men who were willing to give their lives to the cause of exploration, one whose tone is full of wonder rather than despair.
IN THE 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 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.
Doomsday Speeches: If D-Day and the Moon Landing Had Failed [The Atlantic via It's Okay To Be Smart]