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

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At Letters of Note, a very recommendable blog presenting historical documents in context, you can read the prepared statement that would have been disseminated through the mass media in case of a catastrophe.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.