What if the Apollo 11 Astronauts had Died?

One of the finest speeches that William Safire ever wrote for his boss Richard Nixon was never delivered. It was this contingency speech, prepared in July of 1969 in case something went wrong and the Apollo astronauts died on the moon.“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 speech begins. "These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery.”

Wait--just Armstrong and Aldrin? What about the third Apollo crewman, Michael Collins?  Well Collins did not go down to the surface, he was to pilot the command module orbiting the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin took the lunar module down--and presumably back. But it was that last part that was considered tricky, as Safire explained in a fascinating 1999 essay: "The most dangerous part of the trip was not landing the little module on the moon, but in launching it back up to the mother ship. If that failed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could not be rescued. Mission Control would have to ''close down communications'' and, as the world agonized, let the doomed astronauts starve to death or commit suicide."

This speech was rediscovered in 1999 and has been kicking around the internet ever since. I was inspired to post it here when I saw it over at the Teaching American History in SW Washington blog, which rightly points out that the speech is a great classroom resource.