The Apollo 11 Plaque
I’ve been reading the excellent book Rocket Men about the Apollo 11 moon mission specifically and NASA in general. I’ve been a fan of space exploration and particularly the moon-race since I was a kid, but there was some material in the book that I was unfamiliar with. One anecdote that surprised me concerned the plaque that was attached to the leg of the Lunar Module’s descent stage.
The plaque is attached to one of the legs, and of course it is still there because the descent stage was left behind when the ascent stage took off to rejoin the Lunar Orbiter and began the journey back to Earth. It says:
“Here men front he planet Earth first set foot upon the moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” Apparently, Richard Nixon, who was the President at the time, and whose signature is on the plaque, insisted that the last line must be changed to “We came in peace, under God, for all mankind.”
Nixon was adamant that the change be made, but NASA employees were not so sure, with one noting that “all Mankind” involves a lot of different gods, and occasionally no god at all. The change was not made, and with all of the hoopla surrounding the mission, Nixon’s directive was forgotten about.
Nixon may not have known that his order wasn’t followed and potentially went to his grave thinking he had done a great service for the Christian religion. If Nixon was right and the Christian God exists, I expect their first conversation after Nixon’s death in 1994 would have been noteworthy:
God: Welcome, Richard. Please have a seat.
Nixon: Thank you, Lord.
God: First off, I would like to thank you for your many years of service. And especially for attempting to get my name placed on that Moon plaque.
Nixon: You’re welcome, Lord. I’m sorry that didn’t work out.
God: Oh, that’s quite alright. You made the effort, and that’s what counts.
Nixon: Lousy NASA hippies. I always tried to be a Godly man.
God: Yes. Well. Here’s the thing – you did some Godly things. But what about all that other stuff that wasn’t quite so “righteous.”
Nixon: What do you mean?
God: Well, there’s your enemies list, the bombing of Laos, authorizing the surveillance of political opponents, authorizing the break-in at the Wat…
< Eighteen minutes of the recording inadvertently erased.>
God: …lake of fire. So, anyway, we’ll just forget about those incidents for now. Please enjoy your stay in Heaven. But you will not be allowed to have recording equipment, and you, Haldeman and Ehrlichman are to stay away from each other. Understood?
Nixon: Yes, Lord. What about Colson?
God: He’s not here.