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. Muneef

    Prophets and Messengers of God
    It's not right that God would reveal on his Messengers or Prophets different Religions that contradict each other in essentials. A messenger is a prophet who comes with abrogating some of the laws brought by the previous messenger or receives a new set of laws. But the religion is one, believing in the oneness of Allah.

    Those who follow the Apostle, the unlettered Prophet, Whom they find mentioned in their own Scriptures, in the Torah and the Gospel... (Holy Qu'ran: VII – 157; Translation: Yusif Ali)


    July 12, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  2. TheyNotHim

    Let's not be naive here people. A NASA Astronaut holds a political position. Since politics and religion are joined at the hip in this country, it is not surprising that there are "prayers in space"...one thing those brave souls know is that god had nothing to do with the construction of their vehicle, it's proper maintenance and operation, and the laws of physics that govern it's movement in a vacuum. They are educated scientists, but I would imagine that traveling to space would be such an awesome experience that there would be no "Earthly" words to describe it, so they fall back on the religious training of their youth...

    July 11, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  3. Muneef

    Guess spying on telephone and mobile communications is part of those freedom of speech...!

    Today they tell you freedom of speech and tomorrow when they pick you up they will use every word recorded or posted herewith against you and might just make you disappear with out and court hearing or fair judgment...must be easy to do that now under the "Fight the Terrorist Laws"..... You never know when such measures might take place....but the ways globally watched feel it will not be too long before we all regret for what we believed in and gave our time for to end up paying for it...

    July 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  4. From me to you

    Come on people, show some respect. I agree with some of the comments posted and disagree with others. So what? I don't shoot or insult the messenger even if I disagree with the message. Isn't it great to live in a country where we have freedom of speech, religion (or not) and all the other freedoms we enjoy? Lets respect each other and the opinions or beliefs of others.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  5. Frogist

    The fact that some astronauts are religious doesn't surprise me at all. Nor does it alarm me. Every person has their own beliefs and needs. And it's not like their beliefs have held back their love of science or yearning for progress. But it's pretty obvious that Alan Shephard's prayer isn't exactly traditional! LOL! And I might suspect from the other incidents that not a lot of them are particularly devout. Of course that's just my guess.
    The one thing that bothers me is Nixon leading the country in prayer. That seems really off. As the leader of the country, I would hope he remain neutral when it comes to religion.
    Also the term "Godspeed" isn't exactly religious. In one of the previous press conferences on Atlantis' shuttle mission, someone explained that it means "Good journey" which is what he told his crew of engineers who would be leaving for the last time.

    July 11, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  6. Muneef

    The Bible, the Quran, and Science
    by Dr. Maurice Bucaille
    Translated from French
    by Alastair D. Pannell and The Author

    In his objective study of the texts, Maurice Bucaille clears' away many preconceived ideas about the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Quran. He tries, in this collection of Writings, to separate what belongs to Revelation from what is the product of error or human interpretation. His study sheds new light on the Holy Scriptures. At the end of a gripping account, he places the Believer before a point of cardinal importance: the continuity of a Revelation emanating from the same God, with modes of expression that differ in the course of time. It leads us to meditate upon those factors which, in our day, should spiritually unite rather than divide-Jews, Christians and Muslims.

    The results of his research into the Judeo-Christian Revelation and the Quran are set out in this book.

    The Bible,the Quran and Science .
    Dr. Maurice Bucaille

    July 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • DiamondSky

      Muneef, you are always in error regarding Christianity and the Bible because you never study them and only listen to those who never even read a single page of the Bible. It's unscholarly of you and pseudo-scholars you have. You don't have the Divine Savior thus no salvation just as all religions don't, except for Christianity.

      July 10, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • Reality

      A refresher on just some of the koranic-driven acts of terror and horror:

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat98,691 – 107,707
      Iraqi civilians killed as of 11/9/2010, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15) Followed by the daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings every day in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Muneef


      Am not sure what am in error of in regard of Christianity and the Bible...?
      For me I admit having read only a drop of an ocean of words of the bible but that is your path of belief you read but as for me the issue of indifferences in between  us as believers in the Holy Books and Quran ,all summarized  in the Holy Quran..which was the latest version of those Holy Books although it is now over 1400 years old... In real life education is by graduation...while here we see some insist to remain in the same class with out graduation...! As for me as a blood line there might have been within my ancestors Who were Pagans or Hindus then Jews,then Christians,then Muslims our blood line has graduated to become to believe in the Final Message...
      But our problem is that many might have carried the name of the Religion with out faith or interest or knowledge in what is in the Holy Books or the Quran;

      “They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.”
      Terry Pratchett quotes (English Writer, b.1948).

      July 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Muneef

      Why I Embraced Islam?
      Dr. Maurice Bucaille

      July 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • DiamondSky

      Muneef, God will never accept you to Heaven on the account of your deeds because your good will never outweigh your evil. You are a hopeless sinner. You need to trust in Jesus as your Divine Savior who died for your sin and rose again from the dead to save you from the eternal penalty. Jesus came to earth for you because God will never accept your filthy good deeds. You think you have some good in you, but in reality it's tainted with all kinds of dirty greed and selfishness. You need Jesus – saying yes to Jesus is submitting to God.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Muneef


      Well guess America does have Christian extremists as well and not only in Islam...such as those call others infidels, so now I became tobe infidel and you became as God him self judging,measuring,weighted others knowing what is deep in their hearts?!
      If you want my advice then you are not to say what you have said or called me since we learned that who goes on like God attacking believers or non believers will end you up where you wanted them to be...

      July 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  7. Muneef

    How Azan was heard in space ;


    July 9, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Tony

      What it sounded like to people in the modern world: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

      How much they care about it: zero.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Muneef


      The "Zero" was behind all modern inventions....thanks

      July 11, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  8. bob

    I'm glad the space shuttle program is over. Science only creates atheists.

    July 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • ಠ_ಠ


      July 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • DiamondSky

      Bob, you are wrong. Science made Americans realize space is not travel-able. I hope Chinese won't send live humans out into space to suicide missions... What Americans do with dogs, atheists do it with humans.

      July 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "What Americans do with dogs, atheists do it with humans."

      Once again, your facts are wrong.
      The first animal to successfully orbit the earth was a Russian dog named Laika in 1957. 4 years later, the communists sent Yuri Gregarin up as the first human to travel into space and orbit the earth.
      In 1958 the US started sending spider monkeys up there, not dogs.
      As for China, they sent a literal Guinea pig into orbit in 1990.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Frogist

      @DiamondSky/Adelina: Space is "travel-able". Not only has the Soyuz and space shuttle missions traveled in space, but the ISS is traveling up there right now. Turn on NasaTv and you will see that proven to you... Also the Chinese are building a space station as we speak.

      @Bob: The article proves you wrong. Maybe you should have read it before commenting.

      July 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  9. AvdBerg

    The prayers of mankind are all in vain as they teach the commandments and doctrines of men (Matthew 14:9). Just consider the fruits of “religion” alone. Their prayers simply are not answered and just don’t work. Read the news lately? Is there any peace? Did you not even know that even Christ did not pray for this world (John 17:9)?

    God would consider the prayers of only two or three people that gather in His name (believers) and therein lies the secret (Matthew 18:18-20). For a better understanding what mankind must do to be able to walk in ‘His Name’ we invite you to read all the pages and articles listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    July 9, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Reality

      Matt 18: 20, a single passage/attestation in the NT and therefore historically unacceptable.

      July 9, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • DiamondSky

      The single passage, in harmony with the rest of the Bible, is totally acceptable historically. It is not e x c l u s i v e as AvdBerg claims. "Only" is his opinion. God hears lone prayers and the prayers with many people all the time. Read other Bible passages.

      July 10, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • Tony

      DiamondSky, prove that your god has ever answered a prayer. You won't succeed, since your god does not exist.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  10. DiamondSky

    Prayer brings up the humanity to the Almighty God's realm. Being answered is only a part of the blessing; it's experiencing the one true God. We hear Jesus and He hears our prayers.

    July 9, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Reality

      Coming back to Earth with some rational thinking:

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices

      July 9, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Tony

      DiamondSky, again, prove that your god has ever answered a prayer. So far, no one has been able to prove that.

      You won't succeed, since your god does not exist.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  11. Artist

    Bucky Ball

    Oh, prayer DOES work alright. It raises the circulating serum beta-endorphin levels. It works just fine.
    Of course you have other options. Eat a piece of chocolate, do some aerobics, etc.

    BTW, I have been meaning to thank you for pointing out to me a few weeks ago that quantum indeterminacy is not necessarily applicable to macro systems. It was an eye opener. Have been looking into and thinking about that, and talking to some people about that. Ya learn something every day ! If you have time some day, I would be interested in your opinion of : http://www.halexandria.org/dward159.htm
    Huh, quantum indeterminacy ..... Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle???? Does this have to do with the going faster than light comment I made?

    July 8, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      I didn't save it, and I don't recall right now, what I responded to, which earned your rebuke. I will bring it up when the topic comes up again. Usually I have total (photographic) recall of these things, so this is a bit odd. Maybe it will "pop in" as the request has been "submitted" ?

      July 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  12. brian

    The space shuttle is a waste of money. Just go to church!

    July 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  13. brian

    The space shuttle is a huge waste of money. Why do we spend all that money when everything that can be learned can be learned in the bible?

    July 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Where (chapter and verse) does it tell you :
      a. how many moons Jupiter has ?
      b. what's under the ice on Europa ? (water or methane ?)
      c. what's the nearest Black Hole ?

      July 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  14. brian

    everthing that can be learned, can be learned, in the bible.

    July 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  15. Kat-A-Tat

    Guess what? Prayer does not work on earth, and it doesn't work in space either.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  16. Reality

    "Dear Lord, please don't let me f- up." vs quotes/prayers of equal value

    Dear Lord Byron please don't let me f-ck up.

    Dear Lord Nelson please don't let me fu-ck up.

    Dear Lord Voldemort don't let me fu-ck up.

    Dear Lord of Darkness don't let me fu-ck up.


    July 8, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Godzilla

      Reality, YOU are a fuck-up! Did you have a stroke or something lately? Your posts are getting worse. Alzheimers hitting you?
      Why not retire and find something you are more able to do without being a fuck-up.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  17. Mark Buldak

    Buzz Aldrin was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and it was Presbyterian communion, not Roman Catholic. The episode is detailed in the book, "First On The Moon".

    July 8, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  18. DiamondSky

    We worship God everywhere for His awesome-ness – in the highest highs and in the lowest of lows.

    July 8, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  19. futuredave

    Islamic "scholars."

    July 8, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  20. William V

    As I heard someone say yesterday... CNN is the biggest troll around.

    July 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • The real john

      Ha ha! You got that right. I, goin to bed

      July 8, 2011 at 12:19 am |
1 2 3 4
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.