5 Faith Facts About the Moon Landing

Ed. Note – As the Apollo 11 fades into the rearview mirror – still interesting reports coming in.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the lunar surface in July 1969. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are visible in the soil of the Moon. Photo by Neil A. Armstrong/NASA/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Where humans go, faith seems to follow. It’s no less true of NASA’s first manned mission to land on the moon, when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins made their way farther into the heavens than anyone had gone before.

Here are five faith facts about the moon landing, which half a century later still inspires awe and wonder in people of all faiths and no faith.

1. Aldrin took Communion aboard the Eagle lunar lander.

When Aldrin first floated the idea of celebrating Communion during the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, NASA administrators responded with skepticism. The agency had already fended off a lawsuit filed after astronauts broadcast themselves reading from the Book of Genesis during the Apollo 8 mission, which atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair derided as a violation of the separation of church and state. (Her case was ultimately dismissed.)

But Aldrin, who would later describe the mission as “part of God’s eternal plan for man,” was insistent, and officials eventually granted him permission to hold a service under the condition that he keep it quiet.

Aldrin then approached the pastor of his church – the Rev. Dean Woodruff of Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston – about the idea, where the questions shifted from legal to theological.

Although Aldrin was an ordained Presbyterian elder, it was unclear whether he would be allowed to oversee Communion on his own. But when his pastor asked the Presbyterian Church’s stated clerk, one of the highest positions in the denomination, the official offered a quick yes. Woodruff then procured a small silver cup for Aldrin to carry into orbit, making sure that it would fit the weight requirements.

The plan finally came to fruition shortly after the Eagle lunar lander touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969. Sitting next to Armstrong, Aldrin pulled out the chalice, wine and bread from his “personal preference kit,” then spoke into the radio.