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Race to the Moon | Article

The Moon and Domestic Politics

President Nixon on the phone with Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin. NASA

The Space Race that culminated in Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin's "one small step" onto the moon in 1969 began under a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower; was accelerated by two Democrats, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; and concluded with another Republican, Richard Nixon. Although some opposed the tremendous outlay of taxpayer dollers to put a man on the moon, most Americans united in support of NASA's work against a common threat: Soviet domination of space.

No Credit-Grabbing, No Flag-Waving
Before the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon, President Richard Nixon had to consider what he would say during a telephone call to the astronauts that would be widely broadcast. NASA had some suggestions that were flattering to the current administration but Frank Borman, acting as White House liaison to NASA, thought they were too political. "Look, Mr. President," he told Nixon, "you really don't have anything to do with Apollo 11. You're just the fortunate or unfortunate recipient of this mission, depending on whether it succeeds or fails. ... What you really should say is something very simple and nonpartisan, a few words of congratulations, and then get off the air." Borman also convinced him not to have the "Star Spangled Banner" played while the men were on the surface of the moon -- obliging them to stand at attention for two minutes of their short visit.

Call for Peace
In the end, Nixon's words to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were nonpartisan, and not even self-congratulatory: "Neil and Buzz, I am talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man's world. As you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth."

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