Looking for stories of space programs interacting with religion.
March 13, 2012 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm stories of ways in which space programs from around the world have interacted with religion and ancient myth.

I'm inspired by the quote in the fascinating Man on the Moon wikipedia article where Apollo 11 was apparently instructed to keep an eye out for an ancient Chinese legend,
Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill for immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is only standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not recorded.
Collins: Okay, we'll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.
and am looking for stories that are similar.

I'm already familiar with the apparently misattributed, Yuri Gagarin quote, "I don't see any God up here.", and the making of the Voyager Golden Records but my google-fu is being obstructed by the deuchebag formerly of NASA claiming he was fired for being an idiot and the many and various kooks that the internet collects.
posted by Blasdelb to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The crew of Apollo 8 read from the book of Genesis for their Christmas Eve broadcast.
posted by jquinby at 1:25 PM on March 13, 2012

Well, there was the Apollo 8 reading of Genesis as they were orbiting the moon. That apparently caused a bit of a stir at the time. I think that was the choice of the astronauts and not some officially directed thing from NASA.

Buzz Aldrin administered holy communion to himself after landing on the moon. I don't think this was an official act of NASA though he did clear it with his supervisor.
posted by bondcliff at 1:25 PM on March 13, 2012

Ah, also - a Muslim astronaut from Malaysia had to consult with several authorities on the proper way to face Mecca while in low-earth orbit.
posted by jquinby at 1:27 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Sabbath in the Space Age
posted by griphus at 1:32 PM on March 13, 2012

The 2001 Planet of the Apes had a subplot about this sort of thing, kinda.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:30 PM on March 13, 2012

It's a bit of a stretch, but some of the 'space archaeologists' relate space exploration to indigenous issues in places on earth where the rockets are launched etc. For example:

"Although not a local word, the rocket range was called ‘woomera’ after the spear-launching tool [i.e. an atl-atl] used in many parts of Australia (Beadell, 1975). The streets of Woomera village, surveyed in 1947, were given Aboriginal names. A verse from the Rocket Range Song, recorded in A Sense of Urgency (Woomera High School, 1978), makes reference to this as a distinctive feature of the settlement:
We know the place name from the Abos first came
And it means just a launcher, they say;
But now, I’ll be blowed,
each street and each road
Has been christened the native’s own way"

Gorman goes on to compare "space" to "terra nullis", a doctrine used to dispossess aboriginal people.

I'm not incredibly convinced by her argument, but there it is. There might be more specific comments in the rest of her work or at her blog

Gorman, Alice 2005. The Cultural Landscape of Interplanetary Space. Journal of Social Archaeology 5(1): 85-107.
posted by Rumple at 2:31 PM on March 13, 2012

Yuri Gagarin may not have said he didn't see God, but the view from space was used in the USSR to advance atheism: there was plainly no Heaven up there.
posted by londongeezer at 2:48 PM on March 13, 2012

Alan Shepard's prayer. Words to live by.

Prayer in Space.

Religion in Space.

NASA astronaut Michael Good (Col, USAF, Ret) on the awe-inspiring experience of space flight.
posted by Rob Rockets at 2:58 PM on March 13, 2012

Oh, this one is so heartbreaking.

Colonel Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli astronaut to go into space, aboard the Columbia in 2003, and he took with him a small Torah that had been given to the project's PI at his bar mitzvah as a child imprisoned at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

I remember the BBC carried an interview with Ramon (then in space) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Ramon read aloud from the Torah. But I don't remember what he read, just that I stopped doing the dinner washing-up and listened; it was beautiful.

The Torah, of course, perished in the flames along with Ramon and his crewmates, kind of a sad irony--it was intended as a symbol of the survival of one Holocaust, but was destroyed in quite a different sort.
posted by tully_monster at 3:59 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

NASA caught some flack from the Apollo 8 bible reading so on Apollo 11 Buzz Aldrin just said "I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way."

This is the point where he took communion, privately.

They reference the lawsuit at the 105:26:08 point in this Apollo transcript brought by Madalyn Murray O'Hair (the atheist activist who got bible reading in public schools banned). Interestingly the court dodged the issue by declaring it had no jurisdiction in space.

Dave Scott also left a Bible on the lunar rover during his Apollo 15 mission. You can see it discussed (and a photo of it) at this point in the transcripts.

I suppose Galileo Galilei vs the Catholic Church doesn't count as a space program.
posted by Ookseer at 9:23 PM on March 13, 2012

In the book, A Man on the Moon, astronaut Stu Roosa (Apollo 14) was traveling in India after his mission. His wife had gone to hairdresser, I think and the hair dresser casually reminded Roosa's wife that she was married to a god. I believe he was also asked by Indian kids, during a classroom tour, whether he had seen anyone on the moon. He said no, which startled the children. Their teacher quickly said that Roosa had been mistaken of course. Evidently there's a belief in some religions that ancestors live on the moon. This is all from memory, I don't have the book in front of me.

Astronaut Jim Irwin (Apollo 15) was so moved by walking on the moon that after he came back, he began a ministry.

Charlie Duke of Apollo 16 had a similar experience.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:38 AM on March 19, 2012

Also, not sure if this fits, but Edgar Mitchell of Apollo 14 experienced "a powerful Savikalpa samadhi experience[" on his way back from the moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:31 AM on March 19, 2012

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