Buzz Aldrin was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts, the second person to ever set foot on the moon.
In his book, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon, he talks about performing a certain ritual immediately after the Lunar Module landed on the moon:
… I wanted to do something positive for the world, so the spiritual aspect appealed greatly to me, but NASA was still smarting from a lawsuit filed by atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair after the Apollo 8 astronauts read from the biblical creation account in Genesis. O’Hair contended this was a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state. Although O’Hair’s views did not represent mainstream America at that time, her lawsuit was a nuisance and a distraction that NASA preferred to live without.
… I silently read the Bible passage as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunities I had been given.
Neil [Armstrong] watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time.
Perhaps, if I had to do it over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists…
A few thoughts:
- It doesn’t bother me that he performed a communion for himself, but to think it represented something “positive”? Something for everyone? That seems incredibly arrogant. It’s nice to know he’s changed his mind in retrospect.
- Communion as Aldrin performed it was limited to Christians, but what could he have done that represented everyone? Maybe he could have done something related to math, a la Contact. As they say in the movie, math is the universal language.
- The reference to O’Hair just highlights for me what courage she had. Being one of the only public voices for atheists as well as someone who fought so hard for church/state separation — at a time when being in either camp was practically a death wish — I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for her. As much crap as we have to deal with nowadays, it’s nothing compared to what she was up against.
- Aldrin mentions that Armstrong looked at him respectfully but made no comment at the time. Why is that? I don’t have any definitive sources, but many websites cite Armstrong as being non-religious.
(Thanks to Norm for the link!)