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By Janel Davis September 16, 2013

Facebook post recognizes little-known space fact

Occasionally a claim comes across our desks here at PolitiFact Georgia that seems to touch all bases -- this one has God, politics and even men landing on the moon.

The claim hinted at political ramifications and a possible government cover-up.

And it was broadcast as a viral Facebook post. What more could a fact-checker ask for?

So let’s go back a bit, to 1969 and man’s first landing on the moon, a feat that seemed almost magical to anyone watching and listening.

"Not many people know it but on July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon. The very first meal ever taken on the moon was the blood and body of Christ!" the Facebook post read.

We had heard about astronauts partaking of freeze-dried food and dehydrated drinks.

And we knew about the Apollo 8 crew on Christmas Eve 1968 reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon, an event heard by millions. But the Holy Communion claim was new to us. We decided to do some exploring of our own.

The Facebook post about Aldrin led to a post on the website, a member of the Greater Good Network of websites. The sites promote numerous nonprofit organizations for contributions.

That post references Aldrin’s comments on the experience: "I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this," Aldrin said. "NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare (sic), the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon Christmas (Eve in 1968). I agreed reluctantly."

So, is that why we hadn’t heard about the moon service? Did NASA, under pressure from an atheist activist, try to keep the Christian observance a secret?

Our research on this claim led to several sources about the holy meal, but we wanted to hear directly from Aldrin himself. Aldrin was part of the Apollo 11 space mission that put the first people on the moon on July 20, 1969. He was the second person to walk on the moon, following fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong.

The moonwalker is currently on a tour promoting his newest book, "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration." We tracked down his tour publicist at National Geographic Books, but unfortunately,we were unable to schedule an interview by press time. Aldrin is now consulting for the U.S. government about the future of the country's space program and how to make space more accessible to everyday people

Featured Fact-check

The Communion event was re-enacted during Episode Six of the HBO-television miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon." The one-season, 12-episode miniseries ran in 1998. It was a dramatized portrayal of the Apollo manned space program’s expeditions to the moon.

But in a Guideposts article after the 1969  mission, Aldrin confirmed that the religious meal took place inside the Eagle spacecraft once it landed on the moon. "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," Aldrin said. "It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements." He then recited a Bible verse, John 15:5.

NASA history also mentions Aldrin’s Communion service.

In his memoirs, Aldrin notes that Armstrong did not participate in the Communion service. Aldrin also expressed second thoughts about his religious observance.

"Neil watched respectfully but made no comment to me at the time," Aldrin wrote. "Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind -- be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists."

Aldrin initially wanted his Communion service broadcast on the air with the rest of his comments and biblical reading. But NASA decided against that idea. It was conducted during "radio silence," which means that only he and Armstrong witnessed it. There was no communication between the spacecraft and Mission Control in Houston during radio silence.

Atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had already sued NASA over the 1968 Bible reading in space. O’Hair said the reading violated the legal separation of church and state.

"Although O’Hair’s ideas did not represent mainstream America at that time, her lawsuit was a nuisance and a distraction that NASA preferred to live without," Aldrin wrote. (The case was eventually rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

So during radio silence, Aldrin read his Bible verse and took his Communion.

Aldrin kept his on-air comments more general. He asked for a few moments of silence "to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."

To sum up, a Facebook post claimed that NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin took Communion on the moon.  Several sources, including NASA records and Aldrin’s memoirs, include accounts of the Communion service.

PolitiFact also discovered that Aldrin’s church, outside of Houston, still celebrates the lunar Communion service each year on the Sunday closest to the July 20, 1969, moon landing.

We rate the Facebook Communion claim True.

Our Sources

Facebook Web post, Jesus Loves, "Communion on the Moon"

The Washington Post, On Faith blog, "Under God: First Communion on the moon," David Waters, July 20, 2009

YouTube, video of Communion on the Moon, from the miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon," Episode 6, posted, July 14, 2009

Google Books, "Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon," Buzz Aldrin with Ken Abraham, published June 23, 2009

Google Books, "Mission to Mars: My vision for space exploration," Buzz Aldrin with Leonard David, published May 7, 2013

IMBD, "From the Earth to the Moon"

Guideposts article archive, "Communion in Space," by Buzz Aldrin, October 1970

CNN, "Astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s vision of space tourism for the masses," Aug. 15, 2013

Daily Mail Online, "Revealed: Buzz Aldrin took Holy Communion on the moon (but NASA kept it secret)," July 21, 2013

TIME Swampland, "The secret communion on the moon: The 44th-year anniversary," Elizabeth Dias, July 20, 2013

NASA history, Chapter 8.4 "Apollo expeditions to the moon"

Webster Presbyterian Church, Church history, Lunar Communion

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More by Janel Davis

Facebook post recognizes little-known space fact

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