Following up on last Friday's Apollo 11 theme, it wasn't all fun and tiny silicon disks.
As some commenters debated last week, the moon landing was seen as an enormously risky proposition, even within NASA. It makes sense when you realize that the operation was executed with 1960s microcomputing technology, i.e. that the Apollo Guidance Computer had but a tiny fraction of the capability of a modern cellphone. NASA's odds, at the request of the Nixon White House, were 50/50. In reality NASA probably had somewhat more confidence in the mission but tried to err on the conservative side. I find it hard to believe they really would have attempted it with coin flip odds on the lives of two astronauts.
Regardless, they were worried enough that Nixon prepared (more accurately, speechwriter William Safire prepared) an address in the event that Aldrin and Armstrong had to be left behind. Additionally, Michael Collins, the Command Module Pilot, was allegedly briefed extensively on scenarios that involved abandoning them. The speech itself is pretty jarring, but what they planned to do in the event of the astronauts being stranded on the moon was downright disturbing.
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 the 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 the 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.
Pretty somber, to say the least. But…
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT:
The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN:
A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer.
Yeah. So the plan was to cut off communication with them and just leave them there. Like, "OK, bye guys!" Their choices at that point would have been to wait until their oxygen ran out (perhaps a few hours, counting what was in the lander) or open up their suits and have a faster but remarkably unpleasant death.
Personally I find it very hard to believe the people in Houston would actually have ended communication with them. On a personal level that seems unlikely at best, given how small of a community the early space program was. It seems more plausible that they would have cut off communication for public consumption but left open a line in the control room, giving the astronauts the choice of when to end contact.
In any event, it is a substantial understatement to say that I'm glad we did not have to find out how this process would work by experiencing it.