I have been watching television shows lately about Apollo 11, the first manned trip to the moon, it being the 50th anniversary of that auspicious journey next week. According to information from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which will play host to a celebration that will feature, among other things, a projected image of the Saturn Rocket on the Washington Monument, the Apollo trip took eight days and essentially ended the space race between the United States and then-Soviet Union.
It was a spectacular achievement, and a demonstration of bravery, intelligence, toughness and good sense that will provide examples of such characteristics for generations to come — if those generations can get their noses out of their cell phones long enough to bother to pay attention.
Almost everything that happened on Apollo 11 was televised, so we have an excellent record of the events, of the drama in the space ship, on the moon, and in mission control.
But one thing happened that has largely been kept very private, even by astronaut Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, who brought it about, along with astronaut Neil Armstrong, who sat beside Aldrin as they waited in the space capsule.
After they had landed on the moon, the astronauts had to endure what may have been the toughest of their assignments. They had to wait several hours before climbing out of the lunar lander and walking on the moon. The purpose of the wait was to let them rest from the rigors of the moon landing, and to become accustomed to the conditions of a weaker gravitational pull.
They also had to settle down from being overwhelmed by the excitement and magnitude of what they had accomplished. They were the first two human beings of all the billions who had lived before them who would walk on the moon.
Before leaving Earth, however, Aldrin had come to the conclusion that he would perform an act of indulgence before putting his foot on the moon’s soil, an act of spirituality that he felt might be the most important thing he would do on that journey of journeys.
A devout Presbyterian elder, he had brought a small, feather-light communion kit with him from Webster Presbyterian Church, a congregation near Houston where he and his family were regular attendees. The kit had been blessed. It contained a small vial of wine, perhaps a teaspoonful, and a small wafer.
As Aldrin waited in silence with Armstrong, he unpacked the kit, which he carried in a small bag, and began to pray. He prayed alone, for although Armstrong bowed his head and had no objection to the prayers, he did not join in. This is part of what Aldrin prayed, and will be familiar to most Christians:
“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest ...” Then he poured the wine into the tiny cup, and in the lunar gravity, the wine tapered upward like the tower of a tiny church ...
That small act by Aldrin and Armstrong went almost unnoticed through the 50 years their achievements have been celebrated. It was largely just between the two of them. Aldrin had been cautioned not to make it public at the time, and so he didn’t ...
But it is certainly an example of putting first things first ... two men who had made godlike achievements knew whom to thank in the greatest humility.