FOR SEVERAL WEEKS prior to the scheduled liftoff of Apollo 11 back in July 1969, the pastor of our church, Dean Woodruff, and I had been struggling to find the right symbol for the first lunar landing. We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets.
Dean often speaks at our church, Webster Presbyterian, just outside Houston, about the many meanings of the communion service.
“One of the principal symbols,” Dean says, “is that God reveals himself in the common elements of everyday life.” Traditionally, these elements are bread and wine—common foods in Bible days and typical products of man’s labor.
One day while I was at Cape Kennedy, working with the sophisticated tools of the space effort, it occurred to me that these tools were the typical elements of life today. I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing himself there too, as man reached out into the universe. For there are many of us in the NASA program who do trust that what we are doing is part of God’s eternal plan for man.
I spoke with Dean about the idea as soon as I returned home, and he was enthusiastic.
“I could carry the bread in a plastic packet, the way regular inflight food is wrapped. And the wine also—there will be just enough gravity on the moon for liquid to pour. I’ll be able to drink normally from a cup. Dean, I wonder if you could look around for a little chalice that I could take with me as coming from the church?”
The next week, Dean showed me a graceful silver cup. I hefted it and was pleased to find that it was light enough to take along. Each astronaut is allowed a few personal items on a flight; the wine chalice would be in my personal-preference kit.
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