Moments in History

Mysteries of the Moon

apollo11 launch

This afternoon I am going to run the first of a couple of posts that I have been kicking around for quite some time now, but just have never gotten around to. (Be sure to tune in next week for more!) The Professor’s User Input on the question of the current state of NASA and the future thereof reminded me of them. First up, when we remember back to the space race it’s culmination with the Moon landing, I think that we tend to view it as a period of triumph and success. But I think it is important to recall that at the time, the neither the success of these ventures nor the victory over the Russians in the Cold War were in any way assured. When it came to the Moon landing, did you ever wonder what sort of back up plans might have been in place in the event of mission failure?

The possibility had been considered that a problem with the lunar lander could have stranded the intrepid astronauts on the Moon, and a memo outlining actions to be taken and the speech that the president would make if such an unfortunate incident occurred were written.  The previously unpublished documents were found by LA Times columnist Jim Mann, in a file titled, “IN THE EVENT OF MOON DISASTER.”

President Richard Nixon would have informed the country that night on television:

Before giving the speech, the President would have made telephone calls to the “widows to be” to offer condolences. After final goodbyes, and perhaps recommendations to the astronauts on how to close their lives, the plans called for Mission Control to “close down communications” with the Lunar Module. In a public ritual likened to burial at sea, clergyman would then have commended their souls to “the deepest of the deep”. (

Nixon Moon phone call

The speech, out lined in the memo below, was relatively simple and plainly written:

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.


Moon Failure Speech 1

Moon Failure Speech 2

As for the astronauts themselves, finding no life insurance company willing to take on the risk of their venture, they signed an extensive number of autographs on various envelopes, to be postmarked on special days within the mission.

The end result was a load of very valuable envelopes, all carrying the autographs of the astronauts and postmarks on dates such as July 20, 1969. If Apollo 11 had never made it back those envelopes could have been sold for huge sums of money and the astronauts’ families catered for financially. (


Images, in order of appearance, from and, with the video of President Richard Nixon speaking to Apollo 11 crewmembers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin via telephone from the Internet Archive.

I found this memo via the Motherboard article quoted here, and I encourage you to click over and check it out!

  • Wolfie

    Alternate endings
    Back then the possibilities seemed endless
    If we could dream it
    We could do it

    • CaptianNemo2001


      It's called kicking politicians in the testicles and saying "To hell with the cost, we're going to do it".

      Alas, something came called "Environmentalism related Red Tape and Paperwork" which adds 2-10 years on to any and all projects BEFORE a chance at funding.


  • In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations.

    I think it's odd that every generation of humans before, say, my grandparents has looked up at the moon and seen mystery and projected their own imaginings on to it, whereas later generations like ours just see another rock we've stepped on.

    I wonder would there have been public demand for a mission to go back and retrieve the corpses? What a soap opera that would have been.

    • I feel like we are back to gazing on the Moon with our imaginings. It will be interesting, in a sad sort of way, to see if the amount of people who think that the Moon landing was faked increases as we get farther and farther away from that accomplishment.

      The question of a recovery mission it a good one. Since the early astronauts were military, there may some call from the others to leave no man behind. But they were handling it in more of a seafaring manner, and I think at points in human history we have been uncomfortable disturbing shipwrecks (see Dr. Ballard and the discovery of the Titanic).

      • OA5599

        Mt. Everest provides another perspective. It is, relative to a moon voyage, much easier to get to, but there are still bodies of more than 200 perished climbers remaining unretreived. It's just too difficult to retreive them. Had the Apollo 11 crew not survived to make their return flight, the landing program would have had a zero percent success rate at that point, which is quite a bit different than "failure is not an option". I think the next subsequent missions would not try to land near enough to the first landing site to retreive the bodies; instead, they would pick a site that provided the best possible odds for a safe return.

        I do admit that this question has given me a morbid curiosity of what decomposition would be like in a Lunar environment.

        • jeepjeff

          Decomposition is probably the wrong word. "Freeze Drying" is probably closer to reality.

          • CaptianNemo2001

            The body would decompose for a few days in the oxygenated environment of the Lunar Module maybe entirely if left long enough as it is a 100% O2 environment. UNLESS they vented the atmosphere quickly. Then the body would be frozen for the most part. It might not thaw when the LM is exposed to sunlight as the moon rotates around.

    • Have you ever noticed how love song imagery referencing the moon as analogous to/promoting romance was quite common from the 1890s through the mid '60s, and has been basically extinct ever since?

    • "…whereas later generations like ours just see another rock we've stepped on."

      As a geologist, I call this progress.

  • Felis_Concolor

    Whee, old SF book pitch time!

    For those who don't mind reading an SF novel with squishy science, dated settings and a fantastic premise, Inherit the Stars is an excellent addition to one's library.

    "The man on the moon was dead. They called him Charlie. He had big eyes, abundant body hair and fairly long nostrils. His skeletal body was found clad in a bright red spacesuit, hidden in a rocky grave. They didn't know who he was, how he got there, or what had killed him. All they knew was that his corpse was 50,000 years old — and that meant that this man had somehow lived long before he ever could have existed!"

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