Apollo 11 – An Alternate Universe

By Sibylle Machat

No, this blog post is not about con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries con­nect­ed to the Apol­lo pro­gram, Apol­lo 11, or the moon land­ing. Instead, it is about an alter­nate uni­verse in which the first moon land­ing had a less for­tu­nate end­ing, a “there but for the grace of god” in reverse.

The day: June 20, 1969, around 6 p.m. UTC (Coor­di­nat­ed Uni­ver­sal Time).

Neil Arm­strong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin have suc­cess­ful­ly land­ed on the moon, com­plet­ed their famous moon walk, tak­en pho­tographs, col­lect­ed about 20 kg worth of lunar rock and soil sam­ples, and have final­ly re-entered Eagle (as they named their lunar lan­der). They’ve slept for a good sev­en hours, and, now that they are both awake again, the time has come to lift off from the moon, to get back into lunar orbit, ren­dezvous with Colum­bia, where their crew­mate Michael Collins is await­ing their return, and to, ulti­mate­ly, head back to earth.

So Arm­strong and Aldrin fire the Eagle’s engine.

And … … … noth­ing happens.

Efforts under­tak­en by the two astro­nauts to fix the prob­lem also fail and what was ulti­mate­ly only a vague con­cern lead­ing up to the mis­sion becomes a sad real­i­ty: Arm­strong and Aldrin are strand­ed on the moon. Once their oxy­gen runs out, they will die a slow death – with the entire world watching.

Sounds unlike­ly?

Maybe, but this was a real enough con­cern at the time that Richard Nixon’s speech writer, William Safire, pre­pared a speech for the Pres­i­dent, cov­er­ing just such an even­tu­al­i­ty. Enti­tled “In the Event of Moon Dis­as­ter,” it remains one of the most haunt­ing ‘what if’ doc­u­ments of the Apol­lo project. The memo con­tain­ing the speech is locat­ed in the Nation­al Archives, and you can read it here.

 15,900 Total Views,  3 Views Today