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When astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969, then-President Richard Nixon became the first human to call the moon from a landline phone. In the televised call (patched up to the lunar module by NASA mission control in Houston), Nixon told the astronauts that the whole world was proud of them, and that "because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world."
At the same time, however, the president was prepared to make another call — to Armstrong and Aldrin's soon-to-be-widowed wives.
Lunar - Module - Sea - Tranquility - Night
Even after the lunar module touched down on the Sea of Tranquility that night, there was no guarantee that Aldrin and Armstrong would be able to make it safely back to the orbiting command module where their crewmember Michael Collins waited, let alone back to Earth. With this in mind, Nixon asked speechwriter William Safire to pen him a contingency plan "in event of moon disaster."
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Safire - Interview - Meet - Press - Lunar
As Safire explained in a 1999 interview with Meet the Press, piloting the lunar module back into orbit to meet the command module was one of the riskiest objectives of the Apollo 11 mission. While the crew of Apollo 10 had previously piloted the lunar module to within 9 miles (14.4 kilometers) of the moon's surface, the Apollo 11 astronauts faced an unprecedented challenge in returning the module to orbit.
"If they couldn't [do it], they'd have to be abandoned on the moon, left to die there," Safire told Meet the Press. "The men would either have to starve to death or commit suicide."
NASA - Communications - Spacemen - President
If that had occurred, NASA would have cut off communications with the doomed spacemen, and the President would...
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