Fifty years ago this Saturday, after Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module had landed in the Sea of Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin took to the communication system and sent a message back to the ground crew on earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he asked. “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 give thanks in his own individual way.”
Then, NASA censored the most significant spiritual event in the history of space exploration.
After Aldrin ended the communication, he read a verse from the Gospel of John: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” He then opened two small packages containing consecrated bread and wine from his church in Texas. Aldrin poured the wine into a chalice. “In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” he later recalled. As Neil Armstrong looked on in silence, Aldrin took communion. The first foods ever prepared or consumed on the moon were the Body and Blood of Christ.
Aldrin had intended to broadcast the communion passage to Earth, but at the last moment NASA silenced him to avoid exacerbating an ongoing legal battle with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a miserable, militant atheist widely considered “the most hated woman in America.” Seven months earlier, Murray had sued NASA for permitting the Apollo 8 astronauts to read from the Book of Genesis during a Christmas Eve broadcast from lunar orbit. By the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the skittish space agency kowtowed to the atheist activist and censored the lunar communion.
From the beginning, religious faith animated the American quest to explore the heavens. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy concluded his famous “we choose to go to the moon” speech by asking “God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” Kennedy embarked on that journey to win a space race that pitted the God-fearing United States against godless Soviet communism.
We mustered the physical courage to land men on another world only to lose the courage of our convictions and hide that humble moment of spiritual triumph when our astronaut gave thanks to God in heavenly communion. Such ironies abound throughout history. Yet in the space agency’s radio silence and the eternal silence of outer space, Buzz Aldrin consecrated that historic moment.
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