18 July 2019, The Tablet

Communion on the Moon: astronaut Buzz Aldrin's celebration was hushed up by Nasa

Communion on the Moon: astronaut Buzz Aldrin's celebration was hushed up by Nasa

Lichfield Cathedral transformed by sculptor and artist Peter Walker


The first liquid poured by human hands on the Moon, and the first food eaten there, were Communion elements. But this first lunar liturgy was kept under wraps by Nasa

“That’s one small step for man: one giant leap for mankind.” One of the most famous ­sentences ever uttered was heard 50 years ago this weekend; they were the words of Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, as he stepped on to the Moon’s ­surface on 21 July 1969.

But it was some other words spoken from the lunar landing craft a few hours earlier that are being celebrated in Lichfield Cathedral this weekend. The “Eagle” had touched down on the Sea of Tranquillity at 20.17 UTC on 20 July, with Armstrong and fellow crew member Buzz Aldrin aboard. There then ­followed around six hours before the hatch was opened and Armstrong, and a few ­minutes later Aldrin, took the steps for which history will forever remember them. However, two hours into that six-hour wait, as TV and radio broadcast to one of the largest-ever global audiences, Buzz Aldrin spoke some words that were more cryptic than they sounded.

“Houston,” he said. “This is Eagle. This is the LM [landing module] pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

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