"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe": Nixon's Speech if Apollo 11 Had Failed
Like a lot of science fiction nerds, I grew up staring at the moon and the stars. It was like a prayer to whisper to myself that someday, I was going there, that someday I'd fly between them for no other reason than to go there. But it was with a grain of sadness even as a child. My earliest memory of the space program is Challenger detonating after launch, and at no time in my life has mankind gone farther into space than I can drive horizontally in a few hours on the interstate.
Somewhere along the way, the audacious projects fell by the wayside. We started doing the safe missions, the more efficient and cost effective missions. I know every one of the scientific arguments, I know that sending people to Mars would cost a hundred times what it took to send a wee little rover. I know that there's no science that can be done by human hands so incredibly much better that it could ever justify the cost. But I also know that all of that is true of the Apollo 11 mission as well. I know that those exact reasons are why the Russians never even made the attempt at dropping humans onto the surface of the moon.
But gods, we sent men there because we could. We sent them there for a dream, for the secret symbols of awe we can only find in infinity. Of course the motivation was to beat those godless commies, but isn't that exactly the point? Once we rode pillars of fire to touch the sky, for no reason but reaching farther than anyone else.
The short speech below was penned by William Safire for President Nixon in the event that Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin had been unable to take off from the moon, and been hopelessly stranded at the Sea of Tranquillity.
I like to think that we will change our collective minds, that the questions of cost-benefit and risk-to-crew will be buried for the irrelevancies that they are in the scheme of the dream. I like to think that if Tricky Dick had been forced to address the world with that speech, that Armstrong would have thought the attempt still worth it. I like to think I would have, in his shoes.