45 years ago, man landed on the moon.
As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepared to take "one small step for man," Aldrin wanted to commemorate the moment in a way he found most personally meaningful -- by taking communion.
Aldrin, a church elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas, at the time, spoke to his pastor Dean Woodruff to try to find a way to symbolize the wonder and awe of the moon landing a few weeks before lift-off. Aldrin said, "We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets."
The communion bread and wine, symbols of everyday life, seemed to be a fitting way to commemorate the extraordinary moment. Woodruff equipped Aldrin with a piece of communion bread, a sip of wine, and a tiny silver chalice which he brought aboard as part of the few personal items each astronaut is allowed.
Aldrin wrote about the experience a year later, for Guideposts magazine:
In a little while after our scheduled meal period, Neil would give the signal to step down the ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon. Now was the moment for communion.
So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance system computer.
Then I called back to Houston.
“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, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to invite each person listening, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”
In the radio blackout I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine.
I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.
Before taking communion, Aldrin silently read a passage from the Bible, which he had hand written on a piece of paper: “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” (John 15:5).
Shown is a handwritten card containing a Bible verse that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin planned to broadcast back to Earth during a lunar Holy Communion service and is among items offered in a space-related auction in Dallas, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
He originally wanted for the experience to be broadcast with the rest of his comments, but was discouraged by NASA, which was at the time fighting a lawsuit brought by atheist activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She sued them over the public reading of Genesis by the crew of Apollo 8, citing the status of astronauts as government employees and the separation of church and state to support her case.
Looking back on that moment, Aldrin reflected in his memoir that perhaps he should have chosen a more universal way of commemorating the achievement, a first for all humankind.
“Perhaps if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion,” he wrote. “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.”
Shown are Apollo 11 items including a handwritten card, bottom left, containing a Bible verse that astronaut Buzz Aldrin planned to broadcast back to Earth during a lunar Holy Communion service and are among items offered in a space-related auction in Dallas, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. (AP Photo/LM Otero)