46 years ago on July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.
In the midst of the iconic “One Small Leap for Mankind” speech that Armstrong gave while walking for the first time on the moon, a different kind of record was going on inside of the lunar module. Instead of walking outside of the capsule first, Buzz Aldrin stayed inside as the Lunar Module pilot, and achieved a different kind of first: eating the first meal on the moon.
What makes this piece of history interesting is not only that we, in fact, know what the first meal taken by humankind on another planetary body is, but what was actually consumed.
Rather than feed himself a standard zero-gravity meal, or something more akin to the fare afforded to Earthlings inside a gravity well, he opted for something hugely contrasting: he took communion.
Despite the feelings of some opting to pit religion against science, Mr. Aldrin chose to combine man’s most incredible feat – landing on the moon – with one of man’s most ancient rituals.
As per Buzz Aldrin:
In a little while after our scheduled meal period, Neil would give the signal to step down the ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon. Now was the moment for communion.
So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance system computer.
Then I called back to Houston.
“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.
Theologically, there has been great debate about what Buzz did in space. Some Christians believe that communion is something that only priests can perform, while others believe that it is very important for the act to be done in the presence of others – much like when Jesus broke bread with the disciples in the Gospels.
What makes the argument interesting is that Buzz Aldrin happened to be a Presbyterian Elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas. Therefore, he was allowed (as per Presbyterian policy) to perform the communion. Additionally, since he was technically the only person in the Lunar Module, he could have been considered a “Shut In”, which is the only given example of when it is theologically applicable to perform communion by ones’ self.
Regardless of your religious leanings, what Buzz did is an interesting achievement: bringing religion to space. But it begs some further questions on Christianity in space: Who actually leads Christianity in the heavens?
Muslims only answered the question in 2014 by issuing a fatwa concerning prayer towards Mecca. But for Catholics, the answer was already known before any man or even animal entered space. In fact, the Catholic Church already had discussed which Bishop would preside over the moon in the early 1900’s.
Currently, the Bishop of Orlando is the reigning “Moon Priest”, or space pope if you will. The decree was established many years prior defining that any vessel traveling from a port of call would be under the authority of the Bishop of the said port of call. In the case of NASA and Cape Canaveral, it would be the aforementioned Bishop of Orlando. One wonders, though, how that will change and evolve as more and more people go into space, and one day, live there as well. Will Christianity or religion survive in space? Its impossible to know, but for Mr. Aldrin, the very foundations of lunar exploration by humanity were rooted in appreciation towards God and religion.