In the past couple of weeks Nixon’s ‘alternative Apollo 11′ speech has been caught in the orbit of blogs and sharing sites. It’s the speech that would have been broadcast to an expectant planet had the Apollo 11 mission gone awry, and it’s powerful stuff. If you’ve not seen it, here it is 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.
That speech is 233 only words long. 233 words (only about 35 fewer than the Gettysburg Address, fact fans) that are capable of reshaping a national and global tragedy into a message of hope for all of humankind. 233 words that turn the deaths of men into acts of heroism. 233 words that could have forever echoed throughout history, and reverberated through the thoughts and ears of every man and woman who travelled to the stars.
The thought of that gives you chills.
A man named William Safire wrote that speech. He was Nixon’s speech-writer. He had been a TV and radio producer, as well as an Army correspondent, and in the decades to come he would become an author and a syndicated columnist for the New York Times. But – and here’s the thing you need to focus on – in 1969 he had the exact same set of tools that you have right now: roughly 171,000 words to choose from in the English language and a blank piece of paper.
And a pen. Obviously.
With those simple tools he created something extraordinary. Something which the world thankfully never had to hear, but if it had, I think it would have gone down in history as one of the greatest speeches ever, alongside JFK’s ‘We Choose to Go to The Moon’, Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’, and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’.
Words are tools of common use but uncommon power. In the right order they can change minds. They can split atoms. They can propel us to places we never dared tread. More than that; words travel. And whether that distance is between the page and the eye, or between the Earth and the Moon, they never lose their power or meaning.
I know you already know all of this, but sometimes we’re so busy worrying about pitches and edits and getting caught up in just the general story-ness of things that we forget the expectant power held in the pen as it hits paper, or the fingers as they start to dance across the keyboard. So here’s just a quick reminder:
Words are rocket fuel.
And ladies and gentlemen, you’re sitting on about 171,000 pounds of it. 171,000 words that you are in charge of. So, where’s that rocket fuel going to take you?
Robert Smedley is a TV Reviewer and Writer. When not staring at moving images or being creative with ink, he can be found at any bar that serves a good martini.