Fifty years ago this July, three men left Florida on a summer road trip. It wasn’t your typical excursion – some 240,000 miles away, a 21-hour and 36-minute stopover, then 240,000 miles back.
Apollo 11 launched July 16, 1969, landed on the moon July 20 and returned July 24. It carried Neil Armstrong (mission commander), Michael Collins (command module pilot) and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. (lunar module pilot).
What did it take to get the three astronauts from the Earth to the moon and back? The Apollo program succeeded with the combined efforts of 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists from 20,000 companies (plus the U.S. military).
Toss in a strong public relations team too. In a book called Marketing the Moon, authors David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek say the selling of the Apollo program was one of the biggest ever PR campaigns. From TV and radio features, to product tie-ins, to the exclusive relationship between the astronauts and Life magazine, NASA was engaged in sophisticated brand marketing.
With all of those efforts, three short statements stand out. Two were said on the moon, and one was drafted by someone outside NASA. They’re worth revisiting in this golden anniversary week for Apollo 11.
1. “One small step for man”
The moment when Armstrong set foot on the moon, he said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” At least that’s what everyone on Earth heard. But Armstrong insisted that he actually said this: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The “a” before man makes a difference. Without it, “man” and “mankind” mean the same thing.
Armstrong listened to the audio recording many times after. He admitted that he couldn’t hear the “a”, although he meant and planned to say it.
Thirty-seven years after the moon landing, a computer programmer analyzed the sound waves of Armstrong’s line, and found a 35-millisecond gap between “for” and “man”. As space.com reported, that “bump of sound” was too brief for human ears to ear. It may well have been the missing ‘”a”.
Either way, Armstrong delivered maybe the most legendary one-liner of the 20th century.
2. “Magnificent desolation”
Everyone knows what Armstrong said when he was the first man on the moon. What did Buzz Aldrin say when he touched the moon’s surface 20 minutes later?
“Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.”
It’s not as memorable as Armstrong’s “one small step” line, and was off the cuff. Yet to Aldrin it had deep meaning. In 2016, this is what he told National Geographic.
“As the commander of the flight, Neil was going to be the one who said something historic. Then I come down and look around and nothing was prepared. Throughout history we’ve dreamed of the moon, and wondered if people would ever go there. We were there. But when I looked around I saw the most desolate sight imaginable. No oxygen, no life, just the lunar surface that hasn’t changed and the blackness of the sky. It was the most desolate thing I could think of. That’s why I said those words: the magnificence of the achievement and the desolation of where we were.”
3. “Others will follow, and surely find their way home”
What if the Armstrong and Aldrin couldn’t get off the moon? Any major accident on the surface, any failure of the lunar module to lift off, and the two astronauts would be dead.
As a contingency, William Safire, a White House speechwriter, prepared brief remarks for President Nixon. He sent them to the Chief of Staff in a memo dated July 18, 1969. The subject line was “In the event of moon disaster”.
The memo now resides in the U.S. National Archives. It was published in a 2018 collection called Speeches of Note, a rare tribute for remarks that were never given.
The closing line of Safire’s speech echoes the opening line of The Soldier, written by British poet Rupert Brooke at the start of the First World War: “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”
Here is Safire’s draft in full – a 223-word eulogy:
“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.”
Touching, well-crafted and, thankfully, not delivered 50 years ago this week.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.
July 17, 2019