The Apollo 11 mission to land humans on the moon was one of the most complex things ever undertaken by humanity. They had to prepare for any and every eventuality, including the failure of the mission.
To cover that eventually, President Nixon’s speechwriter wrote a speech in the event that the unthinkable should happen.
Learn more about the speech which Richard Nixon never had to give, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
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On July 24, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.
During their time walking on the surface, which only lasted about two and a half hours, they received a phone call from the president of the United States, Richard Nixon.
For purposes that will soon become obvious, I’d like to play the entire clip for you now. Don’t worry, it isn’t very long.
The call caused some controversy. People objected to using the moment to put the emphasis on a political leader. Democrats were upset because Nixon had only been president for a few months and most of the Apollo program had been developed under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Nonetheless, the controversy was rather minor and was soon forgotten.
This speech, however, wasn’t the only speech that was prepared.
In the lead up to Apollo 11, the Nixon administration was thinking about what they should say in their phone call to the astronauts.
Speechwriter William Safire was contacted by an astronaut and was warned about something they should be prepared for.
In a New York Times article, where Safire was a columnist for years, he wrote:
Frank Borman, our liaison with the astronauts, brought the image-making up short with, ”You want to be thinking of some alternative posture for the President in the event of mishaps.” To blank looks at this technojargon, he added, ”like what to do for the widows.” Suddenly we were faced with the dark side of the moon planning. Death, if it came, would not come in a terrible blaze of glory; the greatest danger was that the two astronauts,
once on the moon, would not be able to return to the command module.
In that event, with no rescue possible, the men would have to bid the world farewell and ”close down communication” preparatory to suicide or starvation. It would hardly advance the cause of space exploration to force a half-billion viewers and listeners to participate in the agony of their demise. I prepared an appropriate statement about men who came in peace and stayed to rest in peace, holding it in my desk drawer in case of tragedy.
Safire wrote the speech, and never submitted it.
After Nixon left office, the speech was sent with other documents to the National Archive.
Years later, Safire wrote about his role in the Apollo 11 landing, and how he wrote the plaque which the astronauts left on the moon. The speech he wrote in the event of a moon disaster was found and widely circulated
Fast forward to the year 2020.
A team of researchers at MIT were working on artificial intelligence and the ability to create deep fakes. Deep fakes are videos that are close to indistinguishable from real videos where the subject is shown saying something they never actually said.
As a demonstration of their technology, they decided to bring to life the speech which Richard Nixon never gave.
The video shows Nixon sitting at a desk delivering what would be a televised speech, complete with a network interruption screen from CBS, which would have been used at the time. You can watch the actual deep fake video at moondisaster.org.
I’m now going to play the speech which, thankfully, was never given. The reason I wanted to play the actual clip of Nixon talking to the astronauts on the moon, was so you could compare the two head to head.
So, without further adieu, the entire deep fake of Richard Nixon announcing the deaths of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon.