Holy Comoonion

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were certain of their place in history as soon as they left Apollo 11’s Lunar Module to walk on the surface of the moon. Their steps provided the images to accompany Armstong’s immortal words on the giant leap mankind had taken. Less well known was the ‘first’ Aldrin accomplished before even exiting the capsule – the first sacrament of Communion taken on an astronomical body other than the Earth.

As well as being a pioneering astronaut, Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin was an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Texas. He had asked the pastor of the Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston to consecrate a communion wafer and a small, space-proof vial of communion wine.

Shortly after safely landing on 20 July 1969, Aldrin’s voice crackled over the speakers at the Misson Control Centre in Houston:

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the lunar module pilot. I would like to request a few moments of silence. 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.”

The quiet and dignified ceremony that followed is best described in Aldrin’s own words, written in the Christian magazine ‘Guideposts’ in 1970:

“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; for you can do nothing without me’.

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.”

The world did not hear Aldrin’s reading of John 15:5 and was not invited to join in on the ceremony. NASA had requested that Aldrin’s religious ceremony not be broadcast – the organisation was already embroiled in controversy arising from the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis whilst orbiting the Moon at Christmas.

But Aldrin’s ceremony ensured that the first food eaten on the Moon was Host and the first liquid poured there was communion wine.

And this was not the only religious aspect to the voyage. The mission’s name, Apollo 11, was a nod to the Greek god of the sun. In addition, the astronauts left behind a tiny silicon chip containing a message of peace from four U.S. presidents and 73 other world leaders. Seven of these leaders had made direct¬†references to God, including the presidents of Brazil, Ireland, South Vietnam and Malagasy, the king of Belgium, Pope Paul VI and the Shah of Iran.