Editor’s note: Buzz Aldrin was Presbyterian…a snip from an old post in Guideposts from 1989:
Before the lift-off, Aldrin was looking for a way to honor God’s presence in the Apollo 11 space mission. He talked with his minister, Dean Woodruff of Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston. When in their discussions the Christian sacrament of communion was mentioned, a plan emerged.
Two Sundays before the moon shot, Aldrin participated in a small, private communion service at his congregation, after which his minister broke off a corner of the communion bread and gave it to Aldrin along with a tiny chalice with some wine. Aldrin sealed these in plastic packets and safely stowed them in his personal preference kit (each astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items with him).
The rest follows:
From the Atlantic, an interesting article on the experience of religion in space. How does a Jewish astronaut celebrate the sabbath? NASA was sued for the Apollo 11 Astronauts reading from Genesis. And Buzz Aldrin apparently in his memoirs reported that he brought a small vial of wine and a communion wafer. It was interesting when he chose to do this:
This is in part the sentiment Buzz Aldrin relays in his 2009 memoir as he recounts how he took communion in the minutes between when he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans on the moon’s surface, and when Armstrong set his foot down on the dust. Aldrin says he had planned the ceremony as “an expression of gratitude and hope.” The ceremony was kept quiet (un-aired) because NASA was proceeding cautiously following a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 Genesis reading, but it proceeded with a tiny vial of wine and a wafer Aldrin had transported to the moon in anticipation of the moment (personal items were strictly restricted by weight, so everything had to be small). He writes:
During those first hours on the moon, before the planned eating and rest periods, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements along with a three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: “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.” I poured a thimblefull of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. My comments to the world were inclusive: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever 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.” I silently read the Bible passages as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.
Neil watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time.
He continued, reflecting:
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. It was my hope that people would keep the whole event in their minds and see, beyond minor details and technical achievements, a deeper meaning — a challenge, and the human need to explore whatever is above us, below us, or out there.