The Spiritual Side of Apollo 11

On  July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Although faith and science have often been in conflict in the past and many see the mission as only a triumph in science, there are examples of faith a part of the Apollo program.

One of the first acts performed on Apollo 11, after first landing on the Moon, was a celebration of the Communion by astronaut Buzz Aldrin. In 1969, Buzz Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, where he was given the communion kit that he took to Sea of Tranquility. Upon landing on the Moon in the Eagle LM, Buzz made the following announcement to Mission Control:

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, whoever or wherever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the last few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.  

Aldrin reported later  “ In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit.

“Eagle’s metal body creaked. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements

It is especially fitting and poignant that Buzz also read Psalm 8: 3-4:

3 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

4 “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals[a] that you care for them?”

Each year since 1969, his church, Webster Presbyterian,  holds a Lunar Communion service to commemorate Buzz Aldrin’s celebration on the Moon.

The mission also carried goodwill not only with the message “We came in peace for all mankind” but also left a special disc. The company Sprague used a photo-etching technique using lithographic thin films to create a long-term alternative to microfiche to engrave letters (scanned and reduced 200x) from the leaders of the world’s nations.   Each letter was photographed, and optically reduced to the point where each letter was ¼ the width of a hair! 

Some like Buzz Aldrin carried their religion to the moon but at least two others felt the tug of religion on their return.

Jim Irwin of Apollo 15 felt the presence of God during his 67 hours on the Moon’s surface. In his autobiography Destination Moon he wrote:   “Before the flight, I was really not a religious man. I believed in God, but I really had nothing to share. But when I came back from the moon, I felt so strongly that I had something that I wanted to share with others, that I established High Flight, in order to tell all men everywhere that God is alive, not only on earth but also on the moon. “

Astronaut Alan Bean recounts another experience on Apollo15, “I can remember when he and Dave were riding along on their rover near the end of their 3rd EVA and Dave said, “Oh, look at the mountains today, Jim. When they’re all sunlit isn’t that beautiful?” Jim answered, “Really is, Dave. I’m reminded on a favorite biblical passage from Psalms: ‘I look unto the hills from whence cometh my help.’ But of course, we get quite a bit from Houston, too.

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