Fifty-one years ago, on July 16, 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to attempt to land on the Moon. Four days later, while Michael Collins remained in orbit, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would become the first people to walk on the Moon's surface.
Fun fact: This is one of the clearest views of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, and it's of Buzz Aldrin. In fact, most photos of the first moonwalks are of Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong was usually the one behind the camera.
So, the first mission to put humans on the Moon was a resounding success.
But that's not how it could have gone. There are always risks involved in space travel, and plans were in place in case the worst were to happen, and the first people to walk on the Moon became stuck there, with no hope of returning to Earth.
A document written 50 years ago, titled In Event of Moon Disaster, outlines the steps President Nixon would have taken, and the speech he would have made had the astronauts been left to die over 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles) from home.
"At that time the most dangerous part of the Moon mission was to get that lunar module back up into orbit around the Moon and to join the command ship," Nixon's speechwriter, William Safire, explained in an interview with NBC's Meet The Press in 1999.
"But if they couldn't – and there was a good risk that they couldn't – then they would have to be abandoned on the Moon. Left to die there. And mission control would then have to – to use their euphemism – 'close down communication'. The men would have to either starve to death or commit suicide."
Had this been the case, after informing what the document describes as "widows-to-be", Nixon would have delivered the speech to the world. Many people will know the opening line: "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace." Now, for the first time, you can see and hear what that speech would have looked and sounded like, thanks to a deepfake produced by MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality.
For an extra chilling feel to the video, they preceded the speech by showing what you may have seen on your TV, were the worst to have happened.
Not a very nice way of celebrating the anniversary of one of humanity's greatest achievements, you may be thinking. The project actually aims to educate the public on a very different, timely, and potentially dangerous subject.
The team created the deepfake by merging the movements of an actor reading the speech with Nixon's face and voice in the hope that the video will raise awareness of the quality of deepfake technology, and reduce the likelihood of people being duped by it.
“Media misinformation is a longstanding phenomenon, but, exacerbated by deepfake technologies and the ease of disseminating content online, it’s become a crucial issue of our time,” said D Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence at MIT and director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality.
Alongside the film, MIT has launched a new interactive website moondisaster.org that offers educational resources and information to explain how deepfake technology works and what is being done to combat it.
“It’s our hope that this project will encourage the public to understand that manipulated media plays a significant role in our media landscape, and that, with further understanding and diligence, we can all reduce the likelihood of being unduly influenced by it," added Halsey Burgund from MIT Open Documentary Lab.
The potential use and misuses of these types of video are wide-ranging from re-writing history, to influencing up-coming political elections, particularly as many people get their news directly from social media, which can inhibit their ability to be discerning about what they read and how they act.
And for those of you maniacs who click on a link to see the footage of somebody doing a speech and then don't watch the video, the entire speech can be read below in full.
"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."