I am presently reading a very interesting book that I happened to come across whilst browsing through Amazon.co.uk a week or so back. It is a little known story but one that had to an air of secrecy about it, because of the sensitivity that revolved around the symbolism, politics and religious implications of those who would eventually takes those first steps upon The Moons surface. The title of the book is ‘The Apostles of Apollo’ Carol Mersch.
One of the reasons why the United States handed over the Manned Spaceflight and specifically, Project Apollo over to NASA, was that it was not a military organisation and as such, when humans did step on the lunar surface, it could not be seen as military ‘conquest’ by the United States. The fact that most of the Apollo astronauts were serving military officers seconded to NASA were offset by NASA being a non-military government agency. It is also interesting to note that the first man to walk upon the surface of The Moon was ‘Mr Neil Armstrong’.
Although Neil Armstrong was a former Naval Aviator, who flew combat jets during the Korean War, he joined NASA from Edwards Air Force Base as a civilian test pilot who had worked on the rocket powered X-15 plane.
Whilst most of the original Apollo era astronauts came almost exclusively from the military and as such, were pretty much seconded to NASA where their exemplary flying skills and knowledge of engineering, aeronautics and other scientific knowledge would be greatly valued. NASA started to cast its net further outwards by the mid 1960’s onwards, to recruit candidates who also had medical, geology and other complementary knowledge with an eye to using these skills more fully in the post Moon landing programs, such as SkyLab and later, as mission specialists during the Space Shuttle program.
These non test pilot astronauts, would still be taught to fly fast jets but it was also thought that they would complement the test pilot astronauts by bringing their extra knowledge to bear and give their assigned crews an added degree of ability that they would not before had. A prime example of a scientific astronaut was that of Dr Harrison Schmidt – a geology professor – who was selected as Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 17, the last lunar landing mission. Prior to his selection as a science astronaut, he became seconded to NASA to train the lunar landing crews in geology. With his selection to the crew of Apollo 17, he was to go with the commander of Apollo 17 for three days of scientific activities during their December 1972 mission.
To those that read and study the Apollo Program, most of these facts are well-known. But the story of how the Bible finally arrived on to the surface of the Moon is not. A significant number of the astronauts were practicing Christians and as such, the idea of taking a Bible to the Moon had been previously thought of. The Reverend John Maxwell Stout was an Industrial Chaplain for NASA. He had only intended to spend a year at the Manned Spaceflight Center in this role and then move on. During that time he formed the Apollo Prayer League to which many of the astronauts and NASA employees attended. One of these astronauts was Edward White II who during the Gemini IV mission, was the first American to walk in space. The Reverend Stout and he became close friends and as such, Edward White mentioned that if he was ever selected for a Moon landing, it was his wish to take with him a Bible.
With this in mind the seeds were sown about how this dream could become a reality. Like all things about NASA and the Apollo program, everything changed after the Apollo 1 fire of January 1967.
For the Reverend Stout it was not just the awful circumstances of the fire itself and the loss of the three astronaut, it was also the loss of the young Edward White with whom he had shared many thoughts and prayers with.
The Apollo 1 fire was to cast a long shadow over NASA that would not be lifted until the successful launch and return to Earth of the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968. This was the mission that Apollo 1 should have undertaken if those three astronauts had not lost their lives in the fire. In those intervening months the Apollo Vehicle had been completely redesigned and safety rules re-written.
For the Reverend Stroud he had decided to stay beyond his first one year tenure and make it his goal to get a Bible to the Moon and back as a lasting memorial to his young astronaut friend, Edward H. White II. Taking a Bible to the Moon was not a straightforward task. Their were a number of factors to consider, least not the weight of a Bible or the sensitive subject of how it would be perceived by non-Christian faiths and even the atheist and agnostic lobbies who were already closely watching NASA about this matter, with a view of challenging any decision of the taking of any religious objects to the Moon through the courts of law.
It was against this background that Reverend Stout – accompanied by active members of the Apollo Prayer League – devised a method by which Bibles could be taken to the Moon as part of an astronauts Personal Preference Kits (PPK). Astronauts had a personal allowance – which was governed by that most precious of spaceflight commodities – weight. As part of their own PPK allowance, they were allowed to take personal momentos – trinkets jewellery, small items for friends and family alike. All as long as they were not bulky or breached the strict weight allowances they had to work within.
The Apollo Prayer League hit upon the idea of miniaturising all the pages of the Bible to the size of a 35mm slide, and then reproducing some 300 copies from the first master version, which could then be taken to the Moon as part of a willing astronauts PPK.
This idea was agreed upon, with the company NCR (National Cash Registers) performing the miniaturization on behalf of the Apollo Prayer League and the astronauts who wished to take them to the Moon. The first miniaturised Bible was taken to the Moon by the Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot, Alan Bean. However, because of a mix-up with the PPK’s, the solitary micro-sized Bible did not go with Alan Bean to the lunar surface, but stayed aloft in lunar orbit in the Command Module.
The next opportunity to take a quantity of these prized miniature Bibles to the Moon was as part of the ill-starred Apollo 13 mission. Because of the explosion, they did not reach the lunar surface but made the one solitary orbit and then returned to Earth with the crew.
Finally 300 of these micro-sized Moon Bibles did reach the lunar surface as part of the Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 14 mission – Edgar Mitchell – PPK. Upon his safe return and leaving the two weeks mandatory quarantine that returning lunar astronauts were still serving, he presented these incredibly rare Bibles to the Reverend Stout.
These were then mounted and distributed to other churches and religious organisations who had assisted in the task of enabling the Bible to be flown to the Moon. They were also given as tokens of peace to worthy heads of state and other Christian organisations, such as the The Pope.
I have only just started reading this incredible story. Above are the facts of the story as I know them now. What I can tell you upon starting it, is that it is an astounding read. You do not have to be a Christian – or even remotely religious – to enjoy the story of the tenacious dedication that the Apollo Prayer League provided to make astronaut Edward White II dream of seeing a bible reach the lunar surface and return safely, a reality. They exceeded his dream by a further 299. The book is an engaging read and is skilfully crafted by interweaving the story of the Bible into the history of the Apollo Program. It is by no means a religious book. It is the story of the American Manned Space Program and the dream of some dedicated Christians who worked as part of NASA’s team, to place a Bible on the surface of the Moon and returning.
If you are at all interested in learning more about this story, you can visit the Apostles of Apollo website by clicking here.
If you interested in reading the book yourself click onto this link here. This will take you to the book’s page on Amazon.com.