This weekend marks the 45 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission landing the first men on the moon. Like all missions, NASA had a contingency plan. Space historian Amy Shira Teitel explains the astronauts' grim orders if a lunar lander malfunction had left Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stranded on the moon.
Yes, even when designing equipment for 99.9 percent safety, NASA had to have a plan in place for every potential outcome, including events of 0.1 percent likelihood. That preparedness is never in vain: Apollo 13 occurred less than a year later, just one of many reminders of the danger inherent in going where nobody has gone before.
Update: Reader solracer located the full text of the speech that Nixon would have delivered to the world if Armstrong and Aldrin had been stranded on the moon. Here it is, in full (thanks, solracer!):
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.
Thankfully, Apollo 11 was a success, landing the first men on the moon and advancing mankind in science, engineering, and exploration. Amy Shira Teitel is live-tweeting the events of the mission as they happened 45 years ago—go check it out! [YouTube]
Another Update: Reader VeeKaChu just shared this great photo of his father from 1964, working on the fuel that would power the Apollo missions. Thanks, VeeKaChu!