By Martin Gleeson
Most people of a mature age will remember when history was made on July 21st 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
Nineteen minutes later he was joined by Buzz Aldrin. The two astronauts spent over two hours together exploring the site that they named Tranquillity Base.
On July 16th, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from Cape Kennedy. It was crewed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.
Michael Collins flew the Columbia, the command module which orbited around the moon while the other two astronauts made the landing. Michael was the grandson of small farmer Jeremiah Collins from Dunmanway in Co. Cork.
Late on July 20th, the Lunar Module, the Eagle, separated from the Columbia and descended safely to the lunar surface. To allow the two astronauts to recover from their space flight, it was 7 hours later, on July 21st before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Minutes later he was followed by Buzz Aldrin.
From Montclair, New Jersey, Edwin (always called Buzz) Aldrin trained at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point. He became an Air Force pilot and flew combat missions during the Korean War. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a Ph.D. in 1963. Later that year he was chosen as an astronaut.
Buzz was a member of and an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church in Webster, near Houston in Texas. Before the Apollo 11 launch, he asked for permission from the Church’s pastor to serve Communion to himself when he reached the moon. Pastor Dean Woodruff checked with the Church’s General Assembly, and they allowed Buzz to celebrate Communion on the moon.
While Buzz was waiting in the Lunar Module, the Eagle, before his walk on the moon, he spoke to his commanders in Houston and asked for a few moments of silence. He took out a small plastic bag which contained the wine, the bread and a little silver chalice.
He poured the wine into the chalice where it flowed down very slowly due to gravity on the moon being only one sixth of what it is on planet Earth.
Buzz celebrated Communion of bread and wine while Neil Armstrong watched respectfully without making any comment.
Buzz silently read these words from the Gospel of John:
“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.”
Buzz later said that the very first liquid poured, and the first food eaten on the moon were the Communion wine and bread!
Buzz wanted his celebration of Communion on the moon to be shared by the public, but NASA discouraged the idea. They had already been sued in protest about the reading of a piece from Genesis by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968.
For that reason, Buzz Aldrin’s celebration of Communion in the Lunar Module on the moon has been shrouded in mystery until the last few years.
While Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins have died, Buzz Aldrin is aged 92 and is the oldest of the American moonwalkers.