Thrills of History: 1969’s Worst Case Scenario: If The Moon Landing Had Failed

 If The Moon Landing Had Failed

The Apollo 11 lunar module, the Moon, and the Earth.
A view of the Apollo 11 lunar module “Eagle” as it returned from the surface of the moon to dock with the command module “Columbia”. A smooth mare area is visible on the Moon below and a half-illuminated Earth hangs over the horizon. The lunar module ascent stage was about 4 meters across. Command module pilot Michael Collins took this picture just before docking at 21:34:00 UT (5:34 p.m. EDT) 21 July 1969. (Apollo 11, AS11-44-6642)
This image by NASA is in the public domain
Source:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apollo_11_lunar_module.jpg

On July 18 of 1969, the world held its breath. The Apollo 11 space mission was reaching the moon, preparing for the first human descent onto its surface. As Neil Armstrong, astronaut and first man on the moon, who recently passed away, famously said, the moon landing was “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind!”

But what if the endeavor had gone awry? If the Apollo 11 crew could not have returned to Earth? How would the public have reacted to such a disaster, especially at the height of the Cold War? The Nixon White House certainly did not want to leave anything to chance, and so it prepared for the worst case scenario, which fortunately never materialized.

At Letters of Note, a very recommendable blog presenting historical documents in context, you can read the prepared statement that would have been disseminated through the mass media in case of a catastrophe. It is a fascinating read, in my opinion. It ends with these words:

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.

Read more:

IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER.” (Letters of Note, 2012/11/05)

The Moon Disaster That Wasn’t: Nixon’s Speech In Case Apollo 11 Failed to Return.” (Josh Jones, Open Culture, 2012/11/23)

Listen more:

[Podcast] “A Tribute to Neil Armstrong.” (StarTalk Radio Cosmic Queries, 2012/09/09) – Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s podcast on Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission.

 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965: 47th Anniversary (2012)

Fourty-seven years ago, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which strengthened the rights of African Americans to cast their ballot—after highly-visible violent crackdowns on peaceful civil rights activists in Alabama and immense pressure in their aftermath.1 Even though the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1870 as part of the Reconstruction Amendments shortly after the American Civil War, had on paper secured African Americans’ right to vote, the following century was marked by disenfranchisement through both legal tactics, such as literacy tests, but also mob violence, especially in the US South. In recent times, a push for stricter voter identification laws in some places has reignited the debate about voting rights.

Here is an excerpt of Johnson’s speech before Congress on the matter of voting rights in 1965:

Here is the full speech and its transcript at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Further reading:

The Voting Rights Act of 1965:

Transcript of Voting Rights Act (1965) (ourdocuments.gov)
The Most Important Voting Rights Law In American History Turns 47 Today (Think Progress)
The Voting Rights Act: A 20th Century American Revolution (American Prospect)
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (US Department of Justice)

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Recent Political Debate On Voter Identification Laws (some op-eds included):

Al Sharpton: Protecting the Voting Rights (LA Times)
Congressional Black Caucus Holds Faith Leaders Summit on Voting Rights (C-SPAN)
Charles Postel: Why voter ID laws are like a poll tax (Politico)
Eric Holder: Voter ID Laws Threaten Voting Rights (Huffington Post)
Eric Holder: The Right’s New Boogeyman (The Nation)
Eric Holder wades into debate over voting rights as presidential election nears (Washington Post)
Holder’s Racial Incitement (Wall Street Journal)
New Target In Voter ID Battle: 1965 Voting Rights Act (NPR)
Texas to test 1965 voting rights law in court (Reuters)
U.S. voting rights under siege (CNN)
The Voting Rights Act: Our Last Best Hope (Huffington Post)
Voting Rights Act: Remember, Celebrate and Protect (Huffington Post)
Voting Rights Act under siege (Politico)
Voting Rights, Voter Suppression and 2012
(NY Times)

  1. For Johnson’s track record on race, see Robert Caro, “Johnson’s Dream, Obama’s Speech.” NY Times, August 27, 2008.