Saturday, July 20, 2019

Apollo 11

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin followed immediately behind him. Michael Collins was in orbit around the moon in the command module.

(Neil Armstrong)

(Buzz Aldrin)

(Michael Collins)

At the time, Aldrin was an elder at a Presbyterian church near Houston, Texas. Aldrin planned to take communion on the moon. He said:

I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing himself there too, as man reached out into the universe. For there are many of us in the NASA program who do trust that what we are doing is part of God's eternal plan for man.

However, NASA was reluctant to allow it because the infamous atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair had sued NASA for violating "the separation of church and state" when NASA allowed the Apollo 8 crew to read Gen 1:1-10 on Christmas 1968. (Apparently this is a tradition militant atheists are happy to continue. For example, seeking to remove the ten commandments from public buildings.) Although O'Hair lost her case, NASA didn't want to risk stirring the pot with another controversy let alone law suit. In the end, NASA allowed Aldrin to celebrate communion on the moon, but asked him to keep his comments "general".

After the lunar module Eagle touched down on the surface of the moon, but before anyone stepped out, Aldrin spoke the following words:

Roger. This is the LM pilot. 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. Over.

After the radio transmission ended, Aldrin privately recited John 15:5, then took communion.

Here's a reenactment of what Aldrin did. It's from the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

As Apollo 11 headed back home to Earth, Aldrin recited Psa 8:3-4:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

You can watch the original here. It's near the end of the video.

I'll close with a quotation from Charles Spurgeon in Lectures to My Students:

Wonderful combinations of glory and beauty may be seen in the stellar sky; and some of these stars are red, some blue, some yellow, all the colours of the rainbow are represented in them. It would be very wonderful to live in one of them, and to look across the sky, and see all the glories of the heavens that God has made. On the whole, however, for the present, I am quite content to abide upon this little planet, especially as I am not able to change it for another home, until God so wills it.


  1. I remember watching the moon landing live in 1969. I was nine years old, My father roused the whole family at 1 am, and we watched it on our old B/W TV. I have been watching a lot of the videos that are coming out, with live footage from the various moon missions. I saw something about Aldrin’s private communion service on the moon. I think Michael Knowles, a Roman Catholic, talked about it on the Daily Wire, but he did so in Roman Catholic terms. That was incredibly unfortunate. There was no “chalice”, and nor was there a “consecrated host”.

    1. Thanks, John! That's super interesting. What was it like watching it live? I'd love to hear more if you have more to say.

      Afaik, it's not as if a Protestant (Presbyterian) elder taking communion would be acceptable to a Catholic. Otherwise I presume Catholics would have to accept Protestant communion in general. Wouldn't the Catholic find that theologically and ritually deficient to say the least?

    2. Hawk — yes, a Protestant communion service SHOULD be deficient in Roman Catholic eyes. But with the new Rome, anything seems to be acceptable.

      My first career choice was to be an astronaut. I recall hearing about Gemini as a kid. I don’t ever recall hearing about Apollo 1. I first started watching the space program around Apollo 7, and I was really incredibly excited to hear that they were going to the moon. I had a friend who was even more engaged in the idea of the space program than I was. His father was somehow in touch with the Robert Goddard space center — he knew all kinds of things that I didn’t know. My father had me writing to some US government documents program at the time, and I recall getting some of the official NASA documents regarding Mars, Venus, and some of the other planets. Of course, they knew a lot less about things back then.

      Watching the first moon walk was fuzzy — on the TV that we had, what you see today was just pretty much like a normal picture. We got one of the big new console color TVs several years later. But my dad bought me a commemorative issue of one of the magazines that had actual photos from the moon (not the fuzzy TV images), and it also had transcribed a good chunk of the dialogue between Houston and the astronauts. I still have that magazine. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

    3. Thanks again, John! Much appreciated. :)

      I wonder if you'd be able to scan a copy of that magazine and upload it somewhere? Or maybe someone has already done that. I think it'd be very cool to see, especially as someone who also appreciates space exploration (though I realize there's a sense in which we're just looking at rocks but I love beautiful rocks, whether or not that necessarily could partly justify space exploration!). Anyway I too wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid. It was my first "career" aspiration too. But in my case I knew I would never have the chops to make it.

      You might know more about this than I do, but it seems to me that it's usually Mercury and Apollo that are highlighted in the space race. However, I think Gemini did a lot of yeoman's work that's not as recognized as it should be. And Apollo 1 was tragic.

      If I recall, I think Buzz Aldrin carried Goddard's autobiography with him on Apollo 11.

      Have you followed the current billionaire space race with Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Starshot, Lockheed Martin and Boeing's United Launch Alliance, etc.?

  2. Fantastic. Thank you. I'm going to play that next time I'm leading the church service.

    1. Thanks, Andrew! :)

      Not that you said this at all, but just to be clear in any case anyone else might think otherwise: I don't want to suggest Buzz Aldrin is a pious Christian or anything like that. I think he's a Christian in name. He's generally conservative (e.g. supported Trump). However I think his personal life is a bit of a mess (e.g. he's been divorced and married a couple of times).

    2. Interesting you say that. He famously punched a man in the face who said the moon landing was faked.

    3. Allegedly "punched", because that footage might've been faked. ;)

      On a serious note, I think Bart Sibrel deserved it. Sibrel is loony - no pun intended. Well, maybe a small one. :) Sibrel is a conspiracy theorist. He believes the moon landings were faked. He lied to Aldrin or his team in order to get an interview with Aldrin; he told Aldrin he was interviewing him for a Japanese children's show about space. He kept harassing Aldrin even after Aldrin tried to walk away. He kept insisting Aldrin swear on a Bible that he had been on the moon. He called Aldrin a "coward" and a "liar" and a "thief". (Not exactly wise to call a former military man, test pilot, and astronaut a "coward"!) Sibrel tried to argue that Aldrin had attacked him, but the police and prosecturs both said Sibrel provoked Aldrin. No charges were filed. Sibrel later wrote a letter apologizing to Aldrin. Anyway Sibrel goes around antagonizing astronauts in general, not just Aldrin. Another astronaut who threw Sibrel out of his home was Ed Mitchell.

    4. By the way, here's the video footage of the incident in case you're curious:

      Not sure how long it'll be available. Bart Sibrel goes around the internet (e.g. YouTube) trying to remove copies of this video of him getting punched by Aldrin.