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Apollo 11: Celebrating Communion on the Moon

Before he and Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon’s surface during the Apollo 11 moon landing, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin celebrated communion in the lunar module.

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John Kennedy: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

Ground Control: 15 seconds. Guidance is internal. 12, 11, 10–

Narrator: The images and words are iconic. And for almost anyone alive during the 1960s, they spark indelible memories of what has been called the greatest achievement in human history, man’s first landing on the moon.

Ground Control: OK, 75 feet. Pull forward, just turn to the right a little.

Ground Control: 30 seconds. Over.

Buzz Aldrin: OK, engine stop. Houston, Tranquility base here. The eagle has landed.

Narrator: Yet While Apollo 11 remains a hallmark of our collective past, a significant event occurred on the mission that went unnoticed by the more than 600 million people who watched from Earth with breathless anticipation. On July 20, 1969 astronaut Edwin Buzz Aldrin celebrated communion on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin: Houston, Tranquility, over.

Ground Control: Tranquility, you can go ahead.

Buzz Aldrin: Roger. This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever wherever they may be, to part for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way. Over.

Narrator: For Aldrin, giving thanks meant shifting his focus from the challenges of the journey to the power and grace of the God who had made it possible. And as mission control initiated a five hour period of radio silence, so the astronauts could rest before their first walk on the moon, he removed a packet from his spacesuit and arranged its contents, a silver chalice, a wafer, a small vial of wine, and a note card with a handwritten passage from the Gospel of John. Later, the pilot reflected on his decision to observe the Christian sacrament 240,000 miles from home.

Buzz Aldrin: During the radio blackout, I prepared the bread and the wine. As I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me, the one sixth gravity of the moon caused the liquid to curl slowly and gracefully at the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture which I had chosen to indicate our trust in Christ. “I am the vine. You were the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.”

I remember the sound of the Eagle’s metal body creaking as I eat the wafer and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. At the time, I could think of no better way to acknowledge this enormous achievement and by giving thanks to God. Then I offered a prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I’d been given.

Narrator: The Apollo 11 mission was a spectacular success. And on July 21, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins departed for Earth. The night before re-entering the planet’s atmosphere, they broadcast live to another global audience. Once again, Aldrin chose to acknowledge his Creator.

Buzz Aldrin: Earth and land requesting the events of the past several days, the earth from the mind to me. When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man if thou art mindful of Him?

Narrator: On July 24, 1969 Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins ended their historic expedition by splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean. In an interview Aldrin noted that it was fitting the first liquid ever poured on the moon and the first food ever eaten there were the elements of communion.

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