The time is July 1969. President Richard Nixon hurriedly takes his seat in the Oval Office, perched in front of an American flag and a flag of the United States seal. The president is clutching a handful of papers laying out a speech written for him by Bill Safire, a senior aide.

“Good evening, my fellow Americans. Fate has ordained the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” Nixon announces, glancing unpreparedly at the text of the speech.

Just days earlier, the Apollo 11 mission was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Nixon White House had hastily convened a press conference to deliver news of the worst possible outcome: that equipment transporting astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon had fatally malfunctioned, leaving them permanently stranded in the microgravity of outer space.