Considering it happened in the era of rotary phones and “dumb” cars that didn’t have power anything, the success of the 1969 moon landing is all the more remarkable. The only failure of the event was Neil Armstrong’s flubbed speech. It’s hard to screw up a one sentence statement, but he probably had other things on his mind at the time.
“One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” is how it should have read. Leaving out that “a” really messes up the context. As a kid, this statement, enshrined and immortalized throughout our culture, always confused me. It was meant to be self-evidently profound and pithy, but it didn’t even make sense!
In the 70s, the moon landings were just about the only success America had going for it, so perhaps no one, neither us school children nor the adults teaching us, wanted to call attention to the flaw in the statement.
Anyway, this is not Armstrong’s first obituary.
Nixon had this William Safire-crafted speech ready to go, just in case…
IN THE EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
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.
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT: The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, at the point when NASA ends communications with the men: A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.