Safire quickly wrote the contingency speech. His last-minute address honored the astronauts’ bravery and their monumental accomplishment in words that may have, in an alternate reality, become iconic: “They will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.” His speech acknowledged both the astronauts’ families of the men and the American public, saying that the men’s sacrifice had brought humankind together in the relentless pursuit of knowledge.
The day before the landing, Nixon was briefed and prepared to give the remarks in case of catastrophe. That day would never come.
Only later would Safire realize the imminent danger inherent in all space missions. Each time an astronaut attempted a new mission, he or she risked certain death. In reflecting on writing the contingency speech, Safire said he had wanted to bring comfort to the American public and remind them that the loss would have come amid the most human of quests: to discover a new world.