The surprising history of prayer in space
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969, just after receiving communion aboard Apollo 11.
July 7th, 2011
09:22 AM ET

The surprising history of prayer in space

By Thom Patterson, CNN

It may be the first prayer ever uttered by a space traveler: "Dear Lord, please don't let me f- up."

Dubbed "Shepard's Prayer," this brief, irreverent plea is often attributed to the first American in space - the late Alan Shepard - although he reportedly said he was misquoted.

My Take: Space travel is a spiritual experience

As Friday's historic final shuttle launch approaches, Shepard's Prayer speaks volumes about the wide spectrum of religious beliefs among the relatively few men and women who've risked their lives by traveling into space.

Here are just a few of the religious highlights surrounding human space travel:

Christmas Eve, 1968: The crew of Apollo 8, the first humans to orbit the moon, read from the Bible's book of Genesis during a live TV broadcast to Earth. Later, an atheist activist sues NASA over an alleged violation of separation of church and state. The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear the case "for want of jurisdiction."

July 1969: Apollo 11 Col. Buzz Aldrin becomes the only person ever to receive communion on the moon. A Presbyterian, he administers the sacrament himself while inside the lunar landing vehicle. Shortly afterward, Aldrin becomes the second human to set foot on the moon.

America's Space program, then and now

February 1962: "Godspeed, John Glenn," says fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter as Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth.

April 1970: President Nixon leads nation in prayer for the safe return of Apollo 13 crew members after their spacecraft is damaged en route to the moon.

February 1986: Pope John Paul II prays for God to accept the spirits of the seven crew members killed in the explosion of the shuttle Challenger.

October 1998: On his upcoming voyage aboard the shuttle Discovery - his first space flight since 1962 - Sen. John Glenn tells a college friend according to Newsweek, "Don't pray for my safety. If you're going to pray for me, pray that I do well."

February 2003: Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed with six others aboard the shuttle Columbia, brought with him a tiny microfiche Bible given to him by Israel's president, according to The New York Times. He also copied the traditional Jewish blessing Shabbat Kiddush into his diary so he could recite it aboard the spacecraft and have the blessing broadcast to Earth, according to the Jerusalem Post.

May 2011: Pope Benedict XVI calls orbiting crew aboard shuttle Endeavour and the space station. Endeavour's Italian astronaut Roberto VIttori tells the pope he prays in space "for me, for our families, for our future."

August 2005: While in orbit, shuttle Discovery's Eileen Collins - commanding the first mission after 2003's Columbia disaster - says a prayer in honor of Columbia's seven crewmembers killed during reentry. The prayer is adapted from a poem "For the Fallen," by Laurence Binyon.

October 2007: Malaysian cosmonaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor - a practicing Muslim - prays regularly during his eleven-day stay aboard the International Space Station. Because the orbiting outpost goes through several "sunrises" daily, Islamic scholars must determine special rules regarding how to face Mecca and how many times to pray each day.

Photographing the end of U.S. shuttle program

March 2011: Discovery pilot Col. Eric Boe leads astronauts in prayer before lifting off on Discovery's final mission. Boe told spacelaunch.com: "We had a huddle as a team, we just said a quick prayer and just said looking forward to mission and let us do well. It was a good way to get ready for the mission and to give us some focus before we get on the rocket to go."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Prayer • Technology

soundoff (198 Responses)
  1. David

    One of the fist things said in space was by Yuri Gagarin. He said "I don't see any god up here."

    September 30, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Emil

      Gagarin could not say thing. He was actually a believer. That phrase was thinked of by soviet atheists.
      And one who sent him to space – Sergey Koroliov (Сергей Королёв) was a believer too.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  2. Nickell

    Haha a science blog in the religious section, awesome

    July 27, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  3. WhatWhatWhat?

    The only reason that religion is in the space program is because we still live in the dark ages. We are getting better, but we have to put those delusions behind us, once and for all.

    July 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  4. Jonathan

    "Dear Lord, please don't let me f- up." I think I'd say something like that too if I had a 5000 ton bomb right behind me that's only theoretically suppose to work. I'd probably cover all my basis too. After all, if their is a Being that created the atoms that make up that bomb. He can probably keep those same atoms from flying apart in a manner that would leave maybe enough of me to fit in a match box.

    And how the heck did everyone get talking about the The Bible and The Quran? I thought this article was on astronauts, not a shooting match between religions!! We got enough of that already, atheists included I'm afraid, choosing not to have a belief is still a belief man.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.