July 20, 1969
The effort to place Americans on the lunar surface began in 1961 during the Cold War when President John F. Kennedy urged the American people to join him in helping make it to the moon before the Soviets, thus beginning what would be the “Space Race.”
While President Kennedy set in motion the Space Program, it was under President Richard Nixon that the United States actually put a man on the moon. As the mission began, President Nixon called the nation to prayer:
“Apollo 11 is on its way to the moon. It carries three brave astronauts; it also carries the hopes and prayers of hundreds of millions of people. . . That moment when man first sets foot on a body other than earth will stand through the centuries as one supreme in human experience. . . I call upon all of our people . . . to join in prayer for the successful conclusion of Apollo 11’s mission.”
On July 20, 1969, Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the lunar module, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, declaring when he stepped onto its surface that it was, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong and Aldrin spent a total of 21 hours and 37 minutes on the moon, and during that time Buzz Aldrin held a communion service, later recalling:
“[I] had written the words of Jesus: ‘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.’ . . . I silently read the Bible passage as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer. . . I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”
While they were on the moon, President Nixon called them and said:
[T]his certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House . . . the heavens have become a part of man’s world . . . For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all people on this earth are truly one . . . in our prayers that you will safely return to earth.
Upon their safe return from space, President Nixon greeted them and asked for prayer on that occasion, explaining: “[O]ur prayers have been answered . . . I think it would be very appropriate if Chaplain Piirto [the chaplain of the naval ship that picked up the astronauts] . . . were to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.” Commander Neil Armstrong thanked the American people that “you have granted us the opportunity to see some of the grandest views of the Creator.”
On the anniversary of this historic event, may we, too, recall our Great Creator and also thank Him!