On 20th July, 1969, two men, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, changed world history by walking on the surface of the moon. It was an outstanding achievement. Neil Armstrong summed up the enormity of the occasion when he stepped onto the moon’s surface and spoke the often quoted phrase,
“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The idea of landing human beings on the surface of the moon had been on the cards for generations, but it was only the advancement of rocket technology in the 1950’s and 60’s that made it possible. Moreover, the Cold War (between the Western Nations and the Communist Soviet Block) had created a competitive edge which made the United States determined to get there first.
‘We choose to go to the moon’
On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered his now famous speech before a crowd of 35,000 people. In the most memorable and quoted portion of the speech he said;
We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …
In just seven years NASA was able to develop the necessary space technology to achieve that goal. The achievement will always remain one of man’s greatest, but what happened in the Lunar Module just before the two men stepped onto the surface was actually of even greater significance than Armstrong’s famous words.
Shortly after landing, Buzz Aldrin took communion in the Lunar Module on the surface of the moon while Neil Armstrong looked on respectfully.
The background is that Aldrin was an elder at his local Presbyterian Church in Texas. Knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, Buzz felt that he should mark the occasion significantly. He asked his pastor to help him, so the pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. Buzz Aldrin then took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit, across empty space, and on to the surface of the moon.
The two men had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Buzz made the following statement to the public,
“This is the Lunar Module 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.”
He then ended radio communication and, 250,000 miles from home on the surface of the moon, Buzz Aldrin read a verse from the John’s Gospel and took communion. This is what he said later,
“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. Apart from me you can do nothing.’ I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] 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.”
Through Aldrin’s momentous decision, some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon!
Apollo 8 – a battle with militant atheism.
Aldrin had originally planned to share the event with the world over the radio, but NASA were having a big legal battle with the (ironically) ‘religiously zealous’ atheist Madelyn O’Hair who had taken on Nasa, as well as many other public organisations. She was a determined opponent of everything Christian and successfully fought mandatory school prayer and bible recitation in US public schools.
Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. On December 24, 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast in the world at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Genesis chapter 1. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman recited the first ten verses of Genesis chapter one unashamedly in a world which was still mercifully free of political correctness,
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
O’Hair wanted a ban on Nasa astronauts practising ‘religion’ (as she termed it) on earth, in space or “around and about the moon” while on duty. Her case against Nasa eventually fizzled out, but it did enough damage to change the tone of the Apollo 11 mission. Aldrin had originally intended a much more pioneering Christopher Columbus-style Christian ceremony on the moon, but he was ordered to tone it down in the light of the lawsuit.
The conclusion of Madelyn O’Hair’s life mission was very tragic. In 1995, she was murdered along with her son Jon and granddaughter Robin. After a long search, their dismembered and charred bodies were found in a field. Her former employee and fellow atheist activist David Waters masterminded a plot to rob and murder her.
Apollo 11 was a successful mission and Bible Believing Christian Buzz Aldrin was not stopped from celebrating his love for Jesus Christ as the first ever ceremony to be performed on the moon. His mission was completed and he was allowed to express his Christian faith, as were the Apollo 8 astronauts.
Three thousand years ago, King Solomon gave a warning in the bible, a prophecy in this unfortunate case,
“No harm comes to the godly, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.”
(Proverbs 12:21, New Living Bible)
Story by Ralph Burden