Morbidly fascinating

Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of the first landing of humans on the Moon. Of all the various stories and photos I have seen to commemorate this historic event over the past few days, none has fascinated me more than a photo of a document that historian Michael Beschloss Tweeted a few days ago. Beschloss is one of the more fascinating Tweeters I follow. With regularity he posts really amazing photos that usually have to do with some aspect of U.S. history and usually from the depths of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. If you are on Twitter and even remotely interested in U.S. history I strongly encourage you to follow @BeschlossDC.

The picture that has so fascinated me is this image of a document that President Nixon’s speechwriter Bill Safire produced in the event of a disaster on that first manned landing on the moon. Although that mission was a success, it is an interesting reminder not only of what could have happened, but also of the sacrifice of space explorers who weren’t so lucky.

A few things to think about as you read the document:

  • Bill Safire’s writing and imagery are profoundly beautiful. Is it only in times of tragedy that politicians are allowed to sound poetic?
  • If you read the final two instructions, you realize that contingency plans of which this speech is a part, imagine that this particular tragedy is one where the astronauts are unable to leave the moon and return to Earth. Not an explosion, but something that keeps Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to knowingly face their demise.
  • I wonder if “wives of the astronauts” would have been a better term than “widows-to-be”?
  • I find it interesting and fitting that they refer to instructions for burial at sea.
  • To me, the single most chilling thing about this document is the notation “AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN”. That there would be some point when NASA would decide to stop communicating with the astronauts and that the astronauts would be left with nothing but each other and silence. Surreal.

6 thoughts on “Morbidly fascinating

  1. M. Denise Costello July 21, 2014 / 9:12 am

    Thanks. I am not on Twitter that much and miss a lot, but I do follow Beschloss. His pics are awesome. This speech was fascinating.


  2. Heather July 21, 2014 / 10:04 am

    Wow. I don't often think about this kind of thing going on behind the scenes–contingency plans and such. That's pretty surreal.


  3. July 21, 2014 / 3:52 pm

    Fascinating. I will have to follow him on Twitter. I'm always looking for interesting history content to post on the library's Facebook page and I try hard not to make it all about books. This sounds like a great resource for coming up with some great material to post. Also, dude, the spammers love you.


  4. Thomas at My Porch July 27, 2014 / 8:54 pm

    He would be a really good source for your FB page. Do librarians still do little displays with cut-out bubble letters stuck up with pins?


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