On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, in the most watched television broadcast at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 read from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the Moon. Astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman, the first humans to travel to the Moon, recited verses 1 through 10 of the Genesis creation narrative from the King James Bible. Anders read verses 1–4, Lovell verses 5–8, and Borman read verses 9 and 10.
Borman felt that his initial attempts to draft something appropriate sounded too much like an apology for the United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and Joseph Laitin of the Bureau of the Budget (now the Office of Management and Budget) was brought in to assist. Laitin himself had the same problem; his initial drafts centered on the concept of peace on Earth, which felt inappropriate in light of the ongoing war effort, and he began looking through the New Testament to find to find a good connection between the Christmas season and the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus. The suggestion to instead look to the Old Testament and use the beginning of Genesis came from Christine Laitin, Joseph Laitin's wife.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
Madalyn Murray O'Hair, founder of American Atheists, responded by suing the United States government, alleging violations of the First Amendment. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. It was submitted to a three-judge panel, which concluded that the case was not a three-judge matter, and dismissed the case for failure to state a cause of action. The direct appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Another appeal was heard before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's dismissal per curiam. The Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Later, on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin took Communion on the lunar surface shortly after landing, using bread and wine he brought from his home church congregation. When he tried to speak to the flight crew operations manager and get the permission to broadcast his singular celebration of the Holy Communion service, he was answered with "keep your comments more general". Hence, over the radio he merely asked his listeners to pause and reflect on the events of the last few hours, and give thanks in their own way. He then read the specifically Christian scripture, John 15:5, off-air. However, after the Apollo team was reunited and heading back to Earth, Aldrin read aloud a second scripture that was scrawled on the same notecard but of a more universally human reference from the Old Testament, Psalm 8:3–4, "When I considered the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him."
The page of the flight plan with the Genesis passage is on display at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, on loan from Lovell. In 2018 it was displayed in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC for the fiftieth anniversary of the flight.
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