Above: “Moment of Reflection”, by artist and space enthusiast Ed Hengeveld, depicting Dave Scott placing a Bible on the moon. Image: NASA
There’s no doubt that placing humans on the Moon, is a breathtaking achievement – and well worth celebrating 50 years on. But even as NASA has made great strides into outer space, many people involved have kept things in perspective—knowing the God who created space itself, is far greater than it all.
Buzz Aldrin’s Communion on the Moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin (pictured) was the second man on the moon behind Neil Armstrong in 1969, and the inspiration for the name of Toy Story character, Buzz Lightyear.
Buzz was also a man of Christian faith, and during a rest-time on the Apollo 11 mission, before he and Armstrong’s first moon-walk, he led the world in thanks – then took Communion.
Buzz’s words, heard by millions listening around world, were: “This is the LM 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. Over.”
There was a 30-second silence from Houston before Mission Control replied with “Roger.” The radio was then muted and Buzz began his own mini communion ceremony.
In a 1970 article in Guideposts, he described the moment.
“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… 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. I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere.
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“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 (TEV)
The Bible Left Behind on the Moon
The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal (ALSJ), an official NASA record of all the Apollo missions, reports that Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott (pictured) left a Bible on the Moon in 1971. Writer Andy Chaikin also mentions it in his book, A Man On The Moon.
Scott sat the small Bible on the control panel of the lunar rover that they left behind, and he wrote to the ALSJ years later confirming the anecdote, adding that it can be seen in one of NASA’s photographs.
Scott’s Bible moment is even depicted in a painting by artist and space enthusiast Ed Hengeveld (pictured at top of page).
It’s helpful to know that if you ever go for a holiday on the Moon and forget to pack your Bible, there’s one waiting there for you—just like the Gideons Bibles in hotel rooms around the world!
An Encounter with God on the Moon: Jim Irwin
James (Jim) Irwin, a crew member on the Apollo 15 mission in 1971 (pictured), was a Christian who had a life-changing encounter with God while on the Moon.
He was having trouble setting up his equipment for one of the experiments he had to conduct, and he stopped to pray. He then experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way he’d never felt before.
He immediately saw the solution to the problem, got the experiment working, and was so touched by feeling God’s presence so strongly that he looked over his shoulder – as though Jesus was standing there.
Irwin was so impacted, that after returning home he resigned from NASA, and established a gospel organisation called the “High Flight Foundation”. He spent the next 20 years until his death, travelling the world to share the good news of Jesus and the message of peace.
The Bible Passage Broadcast From the Moon’s Orbit
Seven months before the Apollo 11’s historic landing, in December 1968, the Apollo 8 became the first space shuttle to take humans in a full orbit around the Moon. There was a solemn moment on that mission, when crew members Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman (pictured), read a Bible passage to the world.
It was Christmas Eve, and the three astronauts had been asked to say something memorable to a listening TV audience. According to Earth Observatory, the largest television audience in history up to that point – an estimated half a billion (500 million) people – tuned into their broadcast.
The three astronauts decided to read from the Bible, and chose the first 10 verses, in Genesis, from the King James version – recounting God’s creation of light, of day and night, of water, sky and land.
In the NASA article Christmas at the Moon, Frank Borman explains: “We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice. And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”
Jim Lovell added, “The first ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world’s religions, not just the Christian religion. There are more people in other religions than the Christian religion around the world, and so this would be appropriate to that. And so that’s how it came to pass.”
They concluded their Bible reading with a Christmas blessing: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with goodnight, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you. All of you on the Good Earth.”
The Torah Scroll that Made it Into Space
Ilan Ramon (pictured) was one of the seven crew members of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia who tragically died in 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
As an Israeli and a Jew, Ramon saw himself as an ambassador of Israel and Judaism to the world, according to the Jerusalem Post.
In amongst his personal items, Ramon took into space with him a miniature Torah scroll believed to be about 100 years old, that had been used in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. A Torah consists of the five books of Moses, which are also the first five books of the Bible. This tiny Sefer Torah, handwritten on a parchment scroll in Hebrew, was just 4.5 inches tall. Its remarkable story has been told in an article in the Washington Post, and even in a children’s book.
The scroll was originally owned by a Rabbi, and in 1944, it was passed on as a gift to a 13 year old boy, Joachim Joseph, at his Bar Mitzvah – celebrated in secret deep inside the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. That boy grew up to become a physicist, and nearly 60 years after that sacred day inside a concentration camp, he became friends with the astronaut Ilan Ramon, while teaching him some of the experiments he’d perform on the space shuttle.
“Speaking to Israel’s Prime Minister on live TV, Ramon held up the Torah, saying it represented the Jewish peoples’ resilience.”
Ramon spied the miniature Torah on the physicist’s shelf, and became curious. After learning its story, he asked permission to take it into space. Joseph agreed, glad for it to become famous.
Ramon, whose mother survived Auschwitz, was the first Israeli in space. He also took with him a notebook in which he had handwritten the Shabbat Kiddush, a Hebrew blessing which he had planned to recite on the mission.
During the Columbia’s flight, Ramon had a live televised conversation with Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (left), holding up the Torah and telling its story, saying that it represented the Jewish people’s resilience.
In 2006, a second miniature Torah was carried into space in memory of Ramon, by Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean on the shuttle Atlantis. It belonged to Henry Fenichel, also a physicist, and also a Holocaust survivor who was held in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for 6 months in 1944. His tiny Torah was a gift from his cousins who had escaped Nazi Germany.
Fenichel’s Torah travelled a reported 4.8 million miles in 186 trips around the Earth aboard the Atlantis. In the words of the Astronaut Steve MacLean, the Torah’s symbolic journey took it “from the depths of despair to the heights of hope.”
Observing Ramadan in Space
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (pictured) is an orthopedic surgeon and astronaut who became the first Malaysian to enter into space, aboard Russia’s Soyuz TMA-11 mission to the International Space Station in 2007. Shukor travelled as a guest of the Russian government in exchange for the purchase of fighter jets by Malaysia.
A practising Muslim, Shukor became a celebrity in Malaysia and navigated the challenges of observing prayer, and Ramadan fasting practices, in space.
The space station has several “sunrises” per day as it orbits Earth, so Islamic scholars worked together to advise Shukor on how to face Mecca, and when to pray. At the end of Ramadan he celebrated Eid on the ISS eating satay and cookies that he’d brought along, and sharing them with the crew.