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Betsy's Trivia: Lunar Mission Edition

Answer: Bill Safire

Last weekend saw the loss of legendary American astronaut Neil Armstrong who died at the age of 82. In July of 1999, Meet the Press guest William Safire reflected on Armstrong’s history-making  walk on the moon thirty years later, with a backstory about the mission that cast a new light on how truly heroic Armstrong and his fellow explorer Buzz Aldrin were.

Late New York Times columnist Safire was a fixture on the MTP panel at that time – and in fact holds one of the highest records for appearances by a reporter on Meet the Press. But on the program that day he stepped back into a newsmaker role, delving into his past as the head speechwriter for President Richard Nixon. Asked by Tim Russert about a recently-surfaced Nixon White House memo he had written called "In The Event Of Moon Disaster,” Safire gave the MTP audience a chilling look at how different the outcome of the lunar journey could have been. He said that at the time of Armstrong and Aldrin’s exploration many in the government feared that the two astronauts would not survive the journey.  The White House been warned that the most dangerous part of the mission was not, in fact, the moon landing, but getting the lunar module back into orbit and to the command ship. Safire told Russert of the astronauts getting back to safety: There was a “good risk that they couldn't, then they would have to be abandoned on the moon, left to die there.” And so he had drafted the 12-sentence speech that Nixon could give to comfort the country after such a disaster, delivered in the now-famous “Moon Disaster” memo to Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. Although, thankfully, the speech was never necessary, Tim Russert pointed out that another piece of Safire’s writing did still become an immortal part of Aldrin and Armstrong’s exploration, as he wrote the words displayed on the plaque they left behind on the moon: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." You can watch Bill Safire’s full discussion of the Nixon White House’s preparation for a “moon disaster” –  as well as his regrets about a grammatical error in the lunar plaque! – in the clip below.

Every Monday, Betsy Fischer Martin - the Executive Producer of Meet the Press - poses a trivia question on Twitter about the 64 years of history-making moments and guests on Meet The Press. Check back every Tuesday for answers and video clips!