Following in the steps of Jesus was more exciting than walking on the moon. These are the words attributed to Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon’s surface, during a visit to Israel.
And fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied him for the Apollo 11 lunar landing, was similarly taken up with a heavenly perspective. Shortly after touching down where no man had been before, he took communion with bread and wine he had carried from earth in special plastic packages, and ensured that among the first words ever spoken there were those of the Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ, when he read a passage from John’s Gospel. (The bread and wine are symbols of the sacrifice Jesus made – through his broken body and shed blood – in dying for our sins on the cross).
Buzz had wanted to share his experience with the world at the time – back in 1969 – but NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) were embroiled in a legal controversy over broadcasting the Christian beliefs of their pilots, and he was persuaded to tone down his enthusiasm. He went ahead with the ceremony nevertheless, but with radio contact switched off.
Completing a trio of famous astronauts with a strong faith in the Creator is John Glenn, who recently died, aged 95, and who was the first man to orbit the earth in space.
When Neil Armstrong visited Israel in 1994, he asked his host, archaeologist Meir Ben Dov, if there was a place where Jesus would undoubtedly have walked when he was on earth. Dov, one of the excavators of the Temple Mount, was sure that he would have used the southern steps as he walked up to the Temple. So when Armstrong got there, the man who is more famous for his statement “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” is understood to have bent down and kissed the ground, saying that this was an even more exciting moment for him than walking on the moon.
This rings so true. I can’t speak for the moon, but I know that there is something out of this world about Israel – and Jerusalem in particular. As the Bible says, it truly is God’s city, and when you know that it is where Jesus walked, your faith really does come alive in a new way.
Back to Buzz Aldrin and the controversy surrounding Apollo 11. A previous mission, Apollo 8, was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. On Christmas Eve 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast in the world at the time, the crew read in turn from the opening verses of the Bible (Genesis chapter 1). Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman unashamedly recited the first ten verses (focusing on creation) to a world still mercifully free of political correctness.
Aldrin had planned to do something similar by sharing communion with the world over the radio, but NASA were in the middle of a legal battle with arch-atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was determined to remove Christian influence from schools and other public organizations.
So, just before the two men stepped onto the lunar surface, Aldrin reluctantly switched off radio communication and took communion while also reading a verse from John’s Gospel. Later explaining what he did, he said: “I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture (quoting Jesus), ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’
“It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”
And through Aldrin’s momentous decision, the first ever ceremony to be performed on the moon was in honour of his Lord, who created it all!
Madalyn O’Hair’s atheistic life mission ended tragically in 1995 when she was murdered, along with her son and granddaughter, by fellow anti-God activist David Waters. Surviving son William J Murray, who thus lost his mother, brother and daughter, had been disowned by his family after becoming a Christian in 1980.
Meanwhile John Glenn, whose historic space flight aboard Friendship 7 in 1962 catapulted him to heroic stature, was also a man of deep Christian faith. And when he again left the bounds of earth on December 8, 2016, he passed into the arms of his Saviour, Jesus Christ.
He said he prayed every day during those pioneering space flights, which were inherently risky, and shortly after orbiting the earth he delivered a sermon entitled Why I know there is a God that described how his mission had strengthened his belief, and pointing out “the orderliness of the whole universe about us, from the smallest atomic structure to the most enormous thing we can imagine.”
In 1998, aged 77, Glenn returned to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-95 mission, becoming the oldest person to travel in space. Afterwards he told reporters: “Looking at the earth from this vantage point, looking at this kind of creation and not to believe in God is, to me, impossible. To see [earth] laid out like that only strengthens my beliefs.”
- For Buzz Aldrin’s story – www.reallifestories.org founded by Rev Ralph Burden
- For Neil Armstrong’s Israel visit – Christian Friends of Israel’s David Soakell in his weekly newsletter Watching Over Zion, December 8 2016
- For John Glenn’s story – Mark Ellis, senior correspondent for ASSIST News Service and founder of www.Godreports.com
Image Credit: NASA via Flash90