God is Good, and we Thank Him for Moon Food

Dear Space Racers:

With this year’s VBS program—To Mars and Beyond—reverberating in our church this week, I’ve been reminded of how much space junk clutters my brain, and the brains of my generation. Space Food Sticks were a thing, developed by Pillsbury’s chief food technologist, Howard Bauman, who was working on a nutritionally balanced snack food for astronauts. The first version was space food cubes consumed by Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7 in 1962. The later version, sold to the public beginning in 1972, came 14 to a pack in peanut butter, caramel and chocolate flavors. (The commercials used to bother me because they featured child astronauts eating the Tootsie Roll-like snack through a hole in the front of their space helmets. Everybody knew there wouldn’t be a hole in a space helmet—the astronaut would die!) John Glenn really did drink Tang on Friendship 7, also in 1962.

Born three years and one month after the successful launch of Sputnik 1, my early childhood paralleled the race to the moon, culminating on July 20, 1969 (fifty years ago next month), with Apollo 11, when human footprints were first left on the lunar surface. What was the first food eaten on the moon?

You might think some Pillsbury product-placement would have won the competition for such an honor, but that wasn’t the case. It was neither Tang nor Space Food Sticks, nor even Pop Rocks; the first food to be consumed on the moon was bread and wine.

The lunar module Eagle (remember, "The Eagle has landed"?) touched down on the moon’s surface, but the mission schedule required them to rest prior to stepping out of the capsule. Mission control believed they needed some downtime to adjust to the lower lunar gravity. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin waited anxiously for the disembark command. Preparing for those moments, Buzz Aldrin, an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, TX, brought along a small chalice with grape juice and bread preserved from a Communion service held prior to launch.

Aldrin’s original plan was to celebrate Communion openly as the world listened to the communications from the moon’s surface, but NASA commanders recommended against it after the hostility they received following the reading of Genesis 1 by the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968. Aldrin decided instead to merely request a few moments of silence. Aldrin said through the communication system, “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.” It was then, in that silence, he communed.

NASA kept the event quiet; even Aldrin reflected years later that stepping out onto the moon was an accomplishment by people of all faiths, but he wanted to do something significant to show his personal faith and gratitude. A mission that required the efforts of nearly a half-million people needed some acknowledgement of the Communion that made it possible. You might say that Aldrin’s act was a small nibble for a man, but a giant bite for humankind.

Still fascinated by the wonders of space, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor