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First meal on the moon: how Buzz Aldrin took communion (and why NASA hushed it up)

Almost everyone knows Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to stand on the moon. Almost everyone knows what Armstrong said: 'That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.' But how many know what Buzz Aldrin did before they stepped out on to the moon's surface? 

Aldrin was a convinced Christian and an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas. Before the flight he had wondered about how to mark the landing. He wrote in an article for Guideposts magazine in 1970 that his pastor Dean Woodruff had told him 'God reveals himself in the common elements of everyday life' – like bread and wine. Woodruff gave him a silver chalice to take with him on the flight, and there was just enough gravity for him to be able to pour the wine from a plastic container. 

He wrote in Guideposts: '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.'

He also read from John 15.5: '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.'

Before he took communion, he radioed back to NASA: '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 give thanks in his own individual way.' NASA kept quiet about what he was actually doing, though. It was bruised by the activities of atheist campaigner Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who had fought a series of court battles – all of which she lost – against it because the crew of a previous mission, Apollo 8, had read out the creation story from Genesis during their orbit. She thought it violated the constitutional division between church and state. 

The Bible and the moon have a lot more history besides all that, though. Three hundred microfilmed King James Versions were carried on the Apollo 14 mission at the instigation of the Apollo Prayer League, 100 of which went down to the moon in the lunar module with astronaut Edgar Mitchell. 

There's also a paper Bible still on the moon; it's on the dashboard of an abandoned lunar rover and was left there by Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott.

Author: Mark Woods, 20 July 2019 (Last updated: 5 December 2019)

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