The First Meal

This past Sunday, July 20th, marked the 45th anniversary of the landing on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts (which also occurred on a Sunday). Some of you may remember watching the grainy footage as it was broadcast to the world that day. We’ve all heard recordings of Neil Armstrong’s famous speech as he set foot on the surface of the moon – “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Both men would spend several hours on the surface of the moon. They planted a specially designed US flag, took soil and rock samples and many photographs.

The Apollo 11 Patch hanging at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL.
The Apollo 11 Patch hanging at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL.

But there is one part of the lunar landing that didn’t get much press. As a matter of fact, NASA purposely decided to not air the first meal taken on the surface of the moon. Why? Well, they were afraid of the repercussions. So what was so secretive and dubious about this meal? I’ll tell you.

Buzz Aldrin told the story in an interview with Guideposts magazine in October, 1970:

For several weeks prior to the scheduled lift-off of Apollo 11 back in July, 1969, the pastor of our church, Dean Woodruff, and I had been struggling to find the right symbol for the first lunar landing. We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets….“One of the principal symbols,” Dean says, “is that God reveals Himself in the common elements of everyday life.” Traditionally, these elements are bread and wine—common foods in Bible days and typical products of man’s labor. One day while I was at Cape Kennedy working with the sophisticated tools of the space effort, it occurred to me that these tools were the typical elements of life today. I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing Himself there too, as man reached out into the universe. For there are many of us in the NASA program who do trust that what we are doing is part of God’s eternal plan for man. I spoke with Dean about the idea as soon as I returned home, and he was enthusiastic. “I could carry the bread in a plastic packet, the way regular inflight food is wrapped. And the wine also—there will be just enough gravity on the moon for liquid to pour. I’ll be able to drink normally from a cup. Dean, I wonder if you could look around for a little chalice that I could take with me as coming from the church?” The next week Dean showed me a graceful silver cup. I hefted it and was pleased to find that it was light enough to take along. Each astronaut is allowed a few personal items on a flight; the wine chalice would be in my personal-preference kit.

And while Aldrin was taking communion on the moon, his home church, Webster Presbyterian, would gather for communion at the same time. After the landing and moments before Armstrong headed down the ladder to the surface of the moon, there was a brief radio blackout, giving Aldrin the opportunity to observe communion.

Here is how Aldrin reports the event:

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. 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 invite each person listening, 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.” In the radio blackout I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. 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. And so, just before I partook of the elements, I read the words, which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ [Psalm 8:3 & 4]. I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere. I read: “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” (John 15:5).

So as Paul Harvey would say – That is the rest of the story. Buzz Aldrin’s communion was not broadcast, and so the world had very little knowledge of what had taken place. NASA was already involved in a lawsuit with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and so they opted to not take any chances with airing the communion observance.

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