1484: Apollo Speeches

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Apollo Speeches
While our commitment to recycling initiatives has been unwavering, this is not a cost any of us should be expected to pay.
Title text: While our commitment to recycling initiatives has been unwavering, this is not a cost any of us should be expected to pay.


As explained in the comic, Nixon staffer William Safire wrote two speeches for the United States President to deliver, depending on whether or not the Apollo 11 return launch was successful. When the outcome of an event (moon landing, military actions, etc.) can't be predicted with sufficient certainty, it is a common practice for "contingency speeches" to be prepared.

The rest of the comic runs with this theme, making the false claim that Safire had written several other such contingency speeches for increasingly unlikely possibilities. First listed are a couple pages from the real contingency speech to be delivered in the event that the astronauts were left stranded on the Moon. Lying on top of that is a speech to be delivered in the case that the spacecraft went missing altogether, which was relatively unlikely. The speeches after that deal with the following highly improbable contingencies:

The astronauts had stolen the ship and piloted it towards Mars, which was clearly not feasible

While the crew could have redirected the ship while sending insulting messages to Earth, the spacecraft lacked the power to fly to Mars within any reasonable period of time by several orders of magnitude or the supplies for the astronauts to survive such an extended trip. At the time of production for this strip in 2015, several governments and private companies have designs on Martian colonization.

More astronauts than expected were found in the recovered ship

The appearance of three (possibly six?) additional astronauts ventures into the realm of possibility normally reserved for science fiction such as "Twilight Zone" episodes.

The ship had hit the U.S.S. Hornet and crushed Nixon

The USS Hornet was the ship that recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts after they completed their return mission by landing their command module in the Pacific Ocean; President Nixon himself was on board to greet them upon their return. Apollo 11 famously landed in the Pacific Ocean, and the single ship tasked with its recovery would be a very small target to hit for the technology even if that had been the intent, which it was of course not. Spiro Agnew was, in 1969, Vice President of the United States, and thus next in line for the presidency. This joke plays off the extreme improbability of the ship, and indeed President, being hit and triggering a succession, causing "President Agnew" to address the world.

This is not as implausible as it sounds. The re-entry guidance had become good enough by Apollo 11 that the destination point of the capsule was moved several hundred yards from the carrier's position for exactly this reason. Such a collision had been the subject of jokes at NASA, until one day an engineer came to Gene Kranz and said, "The more I think about it, the less I think it is a joke."

The re-entry craft had been sold for scrap and crushed along with the astronauts inside

Apollo 11 observed a strict quarantine procedure after landing. This possibility requires extraordinary incompetence and unholy zeal for recycling programs. The command module was historically recovered, examined, and is now on permanent display in the National Air and Space Museum. Primary sources state that the astronauts were allowed to leave the craft before it was put on display[citation needed].

The title text builds upon this last contingency speech, delving into the pathos of the horror of the spacecraft's recycling and its passengers' resulting deaths despite the U.S.'s commitment to recycling initiatives.


[Commentary above the speeches.]
In 1969, Nixon staffer William Safire wrote a speech for the president to deliver if the Apollo 11 return launch failed, stranding the doomed astronauts on the Moon.
Uncovered in 1999, it is often called the greatest speech never given.
Today, the full set of Safire's contingency speeches has been found.

[The speeches are shown written on separate sheets of paper, with only a few lines of each speech being shown before the text is cut off by the next speech on top of it. The first speech, "In event astronauts stranded on Moon", is divided among two sheets of paper, while all the rest are shown on a single sheet.]

In event astronauts stranded on Moon
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace.
[Here, several lines from the original speech are cut, and the text continues on a separate sheet of paper.]
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
In event spacecraft goes missing
Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins went to the Moon as ambassadors of peace for all mankind, and all mankind prays that they may yet return safely home.
We are separated from the Moon by a vast gulf of space, against which their tiny vessel appeared as but a drifting speck. For a few brief seconds, we took our eye off them, and despite days of desperate searching, never again was their vessel sighted from Earth.
While these men are lost, they are not forgotten, and their sacrifice will not
In event astronauts abscond with spacecraft
We do not know what led Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to betray the trust we placed in them, abandon their mission, and steer their vessel toward Mars. Nor do we know what compelled them to transmit such hurtful messages back to Earth, heaping contempt on their onetime home.
But whatever the cause of their dereliction, I call upon the United States to commit itself, before this year is out, to launching a mission to chase down Apollo 11 and return its crew to earth to face justice. We must not rest until
In event spacecraft returns with extra astronauts
While there is much we do not understand, tonight all of earth is united in celebrating the safe return of our brave explorers.
We of course have many questions, and in the days and weeks to come we will demand answers. How many souls were truly aboard Apollo 11 when it launched? Who are the six men now in quarantine aboard the USS Hornet? What happened
In event spacecraft hits U.S.S. Hornet, crushing Nixon
President Agnew: Tonight, we have experienced a great national triumph and a great national loss. We take joy in the safe return from the Moon of Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins, but that joy is tempered with sorrow as we mourn our president’s tragic death beneath their wayward capsule.
Richard Nixon wholeheartedly supported our courageous astronauts as they carried the hopes and prayers of Earth to the heavens, and in the moment of their homecoming, he himself has departed on that ultimate voyage. As we grieve, we must rededicate ourselves to the cause for which our president
In event spacecraft accidentally sold for scrap and crushed with astronauts inside
My fellow Americans, I am as shocked and appalled as you at this stunning and


  • Shortly after this comic was released, in that week's What if?, those speeches are referenced with a link to this comic. (see Black Hole Moon).
  • This comic was referenced again in another What If?, Stop Jupiter.
  • In 1510: Napoleon the contingency speech is referenced in the title text but in reverse, as the idea is to actually strand Napoleon on the Moon.
    • In 1291: Shoot for the Moon the subject of the title text is what happens if you instead miss the Moon with your space craft and get stranded in space in orbit around the Sun.

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Speech for referenceBlawho (talk) 06:40, 9 February 2015 (UTC)

Any chance the scenario with extra astronauts coming back is a reference to Scott Card's Xenocide, in the book they find a way for FTL travel but some odd things happen on the first voyage including extra people coming back (click if you're not afraid of spoilers)? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The scenario that the spacecraft was sold for scrap might be a reference to the apolo having a fire during a training and trapping the asyronauts inside. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Probably it could also be a reference to Tarkowski's movie "Solaris"? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It's also similar to the premise of the comic The Chimpanzee Complex. Probably just a coincidence, though. – PhantomLimbic (talk) 17:06, 9 February 2015 (UTC)

Anyone remember the Saturday Night Live skit with Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw recording contingency broadcasts reporting on Gerald Ford's death from more and more unlikely circumstances (including one where Brokaw was told to add, "and also, I'm gay", because "If that happens, you don't want another reporter to get the scoop!") mwburden (talk) 17:55, 9 February 2015 (UTC)

"there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind" has to be a reference to the Rupert Brooke poem The Soldier, which Safire no doubt knew. It begins "If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Maybe, but that would not be a reference in the context of the comic, since the first two pages are from the actual speech. -Pennpenn 23:19, 9 February 2015 (UTC)
Exactly, it's a reference that Safire was making in writing the speech.Silverpie (talk) 18:15, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

You know, technically Apollo 11 probably had enough delta-v to make it into Mars orbit - the service module alone had around 2.8 km/s - although I don't know if there was a point in the actual mission where you could have made this work. Nobody would have survived the trip, of course. Ijkcomputer (talk) 15:33, 10 February 2015 (UTC)

According to this chart they could have maybe gotten a Mars intercept, but using simple Hohmann transfers, there is no way the Apollo spacecraft would have been able to make Mars orbit. 18:08, 13 April 2015 (UTC)
They probaply could have preformed an aerocapture to get into Mars orbit (if they had not died on the way there from lack of food, water, heat and oxygen). The landing, however, would have been unsurivable as the parachutes were designed for the much thicker athmosphere of earth. Landing with the Moon lander would probaly also not be possible, as for once it was designed for the much weaker gravity of the moon, and secondly it probaply would have been destroyed on athmospheric entry. And even if they had somehow surived both the trip and the landing, it would have been a one-way-trip. 14:19, 19 September 2017 (UTC)

So, the contigency speech for the capsule killing the President implies that the astronauts survived - would this be even remotely possible? I'm not sure what order of magnitude of velocity or momentum the capsule would have on impact, but I would think water would be a softer landing than a ship(?), and impact with the ship would not be accounted for... Wouldn't it damage the contents of the capsule (kill the astronauts), if not tear the whole thing apart? -- Brettpeirce (talk) 14:28, 16 February 2015 (UTC)

I think the astronauts would probably actually survive this. Battered and bruised, certainly, possibly even with a few broken bones. But they would be alive. Descent velocity (from what I could figure out via Google) would be roughly 20 km/h to 25 km/h, and an impact at that speed (shown by a very large number of car crashes) is definitely survivable. 18:08, 13 April 2015 (UTC)

As a side comment, "an unholy zeal for recycling programs" is probably the best phrase I've ever read. 13:49, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

There was an incomplete tag on this comment stating that "more in depth discussion is needed". Without a specific point at which the discussion is incomplete, this struck me as too vague and not really solvable (or clear what is even missing). I removed the tag. If someone wants to put it back, please go ahead, although I'd request that a more specific reason and/or description of what part of the explanation is lacking be given. Djbrasier (talk) 13:53, 13 March 2015 (UTC)

Regarding being sold for scrap, note that the Eiffel Tower was sold for scrap, not once but twice! ([1]) -- Jorgbrow (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I was thinking, maybe the last one is a joke on how notorious Nixon got in the later years? Like, in that alternate universe, he would've been remembered not as the perpetrator of a conspiracy, but rather as a martyr of humanity's advancement? 14:28, 9 February 2016 (UTC)

Could the scenario when the astronauts go to Mars perhaps be a reference to "The Martian"? In the book, the astronauts aboard the Hermes technically mutiny and use Earth's gravity to head back to Mars.

I think the reference to losing Apollo 11 is regarding the lose of signal that actually happened. The 2000 Australian movie 'The Dish' is based the Park's Observery losing the signal leading up to the moon landing.

I believe the title refers to the original Apollo 11 transmission tapes, which were actually recycled. 13:13, 22 March 2018 (UTC)

Re the extra astronauts option - maybe the original astronauts were women disguised, and it was a plot to have the first babies born on the moon American, so they could claim it...which didn't work. 18:41, 18 June 2018 (UTC)