The Forgotten First for Apollo 11
It was 8:32 Houston time on a Wednesday morning fifty years ago when Apollo 11 launched on its historic mission to the moon. On Sunday four days later, the Lunar Module “Eagle” landed in Mare Tranquillitatis. Seven hours later, Armstrong and Aldrin would be the first humans to ever walk on another world.
Apollo 11’s mission was incredible litany of firsts – first manned landing, first words ever spoken from the Moon (“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”); the first live television broadcast from the surface of an alien environment; first steps and first “moon print footprints.”
There is, however, one other powerful first from Apollo 11. A first that many people have forgotten.
While Armstrong prepared for his moon walk, Aldrin unpacked bread and wine – the sacramental elements of Holy Communion, or Lord’s Supper. He placed them on the abort guidance system computer. Aldrin describes what he did next:
“I poured the wine into the chalice. 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 very first food eaten there were communion elements.”
How both poignant and appropriate, that the greatest technological achievement in human history carried within it the sacramental reminder of the greatest act of salvific love in all history – namely, the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ that binds the past to the present, and the heavens to the earth. The greatest distance that humans have ever travelled from our celestial home was still within reach of the promise and presence of the living God.
It makes this 50th anniversary a powerful reminder that we can never ever journey to a place so far where God is not.
Rev. Charles Anderson is Pastor of Clear Lake United Methodist Church in Houston Texas, a congregation serving the engineers, astronauts corps, and aerospace workers of Johnson Space Center. Anderson received his Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and is a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church award winner.
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Photos courtesy NASA Image and Video Library