Fifty years ago, on July 16, the crew of Apollo 11 blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center. Four days later, while Michael Collins remained in orbit, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would become the first people to walk on the surface of the Moon. The first mission to put humans on the Moon was a success.
Fun fact: This is one of the clearest views of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, and it's of Buzz Aldrin.
But that's not how it could have gone. There are always risks involved in space travel, and plans were in place for if 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", this is the speech that Nixon would have given to the world:
"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."
The document, available in the National Archives, reveals that a clergyman would then use the procedure reserved for burials at sea, "commending their souls to 'the deepest of the deep.'"