In 1969, aboard the recovery ship USS Hornet, U.S. President Hubert H. Humphrey welcomed home the triumphant crew of Apollo 11, the first men to land on the moon.
President Humphrey welcomes home Apollo 11It might easily have been someone else. The presidential election of 1968 had been a fractious affair, with riots disrupting the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the unsuccessful attempt on third-party candidate Gov. George Corley Wallace by escaped mental patient Arthur Bremer. The Alabaman survived the encounter with only minor injuries, instantly becoming a hero to many on the right despite having said that if the bitterly divisive Vietnam War then in progress could not be won within ninety days of his assuming office he would call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal. (Conservatives hearing those words interpreted them, as did many liberals, as a signal that a President Wallace would use nuclear weapons to force an end to the Southeast Asian conflict.) Wallace had hoped to win enough votes to force the election into the House of Representatives and then extract concessions on racial issues in exchange for throwing his support to either Humphrey or Nixon; instead, he managed to draw just enough votes from Republicans and conservative Democrats to make Humphrey the clear winner, though the Minnesotan fell just short of a popular-vote majority.
Humphrey's victory was arguably critical to the future of the space program. A strong supporter of Apollo, he would push back against efforts, including some by influential figures in his own party, including fellow North Star Stater Sen. Walter Mondale, to terminate the program and forget its ambitious follow-on initiatives in order to free up money for social programs. By contrast, Richard Nixon was known to regard the Apollo program as an extravagance which would have outlived its usefulness once the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in the race to put a man on the moon. The fact that the lunar-landing project was so closely tied in the public mind to Nixon's personal nemesis John F. Kennedy would surely not have helped its prospects had the Californian been elected to the White House. As things were, the program continued as planned through Apollo XX, laying the groundwork for the establishment of Tranquillity Base in 1980.