This story was first published on October 28th 2009 – Image: NASA – Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
This long circulated message claims that Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the Moon, performed the ritual of communion in the lunar lander soon after touchdown on July 20, 1969.
The message has circulated via email and social media since at least 2009. It explains how Aldrin opened the small plastic packages containing the communion bread and wine, poured the wine into a chalice supplied by his church and then ate and drank these communion elements while giving thanks for the success and safety of their epic journey.
The message also notes that Aldrin had intended to broadcast his communion words back to the people on Earth, but NASA asked him to refrain from this because of ongoing legal issues regarding the reading of scripture during a previous Apollo voyage.
The information in the message is mostly true. A July 21, 2009, article on the CBN news website noted:
Astronaut Aldrin may have gone down in history as the second person to step foot on the moon, but he does hold one unique distinction. He held the first communion service while he and Armstrong were on the moon.
The Washington Post reported that the service was not broadcast, because NASA was concerned about a lawsuit from atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Every year, since the moon landing, the Webster Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas, commemorates Aldrin’s moon communion service. At that time, Aldrin sat with Armstrong in the Lunar Module, and pulled out his personal preference kit given to him by the Houston church. The kit contained bread, wine and a silver chalice.
“It’s kind of a tradition around here,” said the church’s Gene Fisseler. “It’s still church. It’s not about the moon. It’s not about the astronauts. It’s still about church. But we feel like it’s an important tradition here in this church.”
Another July 2009 article in the Washington Post confirms the information in the message:
Aldrin’s brief and private Christian service never caused a flap, but it could have. Aldrin has said that he planned to broadcast the service, but NASA at the last minute asked him not to because of concerns about a lawsuit filed (later dismissed) by atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare after Apollo 8 astronauts read from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas.
While the core information in the message is factual, the claim that NASA deliberately kept Aldrin’s communion a secret for two decades appears to be unfounded. Aldrin himself wrote of the communion in a Guideposts Magazine from October 1970, a little over a year after the Moon landing.
And as noted in the CBN news quote above, Webster Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas has openly commemorated Aldrin’s moon communion every year since the landing.
While it is well documented that NASA opted not to broadcast Aldrin’s communion message because of possible legal ramifications, there is no evidence to suggest that it subsequently tried to hide the event for over twenty years. At least, if it was NASA’s intention to suppress the information, it was singularly unsuccessful. In fact, Aldrin’s communion is even mentioned in NASA’s own history of the Apollo missions.
The communion was dramatized in an episode of From the Earth to the Moon, a twelve-part HBO television miniseries from 1998:
Subject: Fw: Communion on the Moon
The first food and drink consumed on the moon was the reserved sacrament of communion.
At first, it was kept secret. To mark the 40th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, Bosco Peters has posted the details of this Christian act of worship 235,000 miles from the earth. The First Communion on the Moon is now one of The Episcopal Church’s “lesser feasts and fasts,”he writes.
On Sunday July 20, 1969 the first people landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were in the lunar lander which touched down at 3:17 Eastern Standard Time. Buzz Aldrin had with him the Reserved Sacrament. He radioed: “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.”
Later he wrote: “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. I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute Deke Slayton had requested that I not do this.”
NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly . 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.
“NASA kept this secret for two decades. The memoirs of Buzz Aldrin and the Tom Hanks Emmy-winning HBO mini-series, From the Earth to the Moon (1998), made people aware of this act of Christian worship 235,000 miles from Earth.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.