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July 20 Buzz Aldrin takes communion on the Moon


The astronaut Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon after landing successfully with the Apollo 11 mission. This was the spaceflight that first successfully landed humans on the moon, Buzz Aldrin was the first and until now the only person to hold a religious ceremony on the Moon. He kept quiet about it because of what had happened after Apollo 8.






Although the crew consisted of three astronauts, only two would actually walk on teh surface of the moon , Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Aldrin. He landed the module Eagle on July 20th and they spent about two and a quarter hours together outside the spacecraft, collecting 21.5kg of lunar material to bring to earth. The third crew member, Michael Collins remained alone in lunar orbit. All together Armstrong and Aldrin spend 21 hours on the lunar surface, at a site they had named Tranquility Base. Armstrong's first step onto the lunar surface was broadcast on live to a worldwide audience of an estimated 650 million people, uttering the immortal words 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It fulfilled President John F Kennedy's promise, made in 1961, that "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" Sadly, Kennedy, Americas first Catholic president, was assassinated two years later, which meant that he was not one of the global audience who witnessed the first moon landing through their television sets.


At one point. Buzz Aldrin, a Presbyterian elder, radioed Earth: "I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way." Then privately, using a kit given to him by his pastor, he took communion and read Jesus's words from Johns Gospel : "I am the vine. You are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me." He decided to keep this private because of the aftermath of what happened in the Apollo 8 mission. Apollo 8, which had flown the year before. had been the first crewed spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, The astronauts had been the first humans to witness and photograph an Earthrise in their fourth orbit of the moon. This amazing image was chosen as the first of Life magazines 100 photographs that changed the world. The mission had launched on Dec 21st and taken almost three days to travel the distance to the Moon. The crew orbited the Moon ten times over the course of twenty hours, during which they made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first ten verses from the Book of Genesis.


1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
1:7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
1:8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
1:9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
1:10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

(See the podcast of June 20th to hear how these words inspired the priest George Lemaitre to develop the Big Bang Theory)


At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo8's successful mission paved the way for Apollo11 and they returned to Earth on December 27, when their spacecraft splashed down in the northern Pacific Ocean. The crew members were named Time magazine's "Men of the Year" for 1968. However, an atheists, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, casued controversy by bringing a law suit against NASA over the reading from Genesis, wanting to ban US astronauts, who were all government employees, from public prayer in space. It was rejected by the Supreme Court of the United States, apparently for lack of jurisdiction in outer space but had the chilling effect on further missions, causing NASA to be skittish about the issue of religion throughout the rest of the Apollo programme.

Aldrin, on Apollo 11, the first and until now, the only person to hold a Christian ceremony on the moon refrained from mentioning this publicly and only referred to it obliquely at the time. However In 1970 he commented: "It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the Moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements." Later, on reflection in his 2009 book, Aldrin said, "Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God." When he returned to Earth, he publicly broadcast areading of the Old Testament's Psalm 8:3–4, as Aldrin records: "When I considered the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him."