Spiritual experiences common for astronauts

Source: Arab News

By Nidhal Guessoum is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. He is the author of the recently published “The Young Muslim’s Guide to Modern Science”

 Now that we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first human moon landing, the religious or spiritual experiences of astronauts in space are worth noting and reflecting upon. This is not limited to those who journeyed to the moon but rather extends to the many astronauts who have spent some time in space, particularly on the International Space Station (ISS). It also extends to various faiths: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and possibly others.

John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, said he prayed every day on his spaceflights. “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible,” Glenn told reporters in 1998, just after returning from his final trip to space at the age of 77. “It just strengthens my faith.”

In 1968, the Apollo 8 spaceflight took astronauts around the moon (without landing) on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve) and, while the world was watching a live transmission on TV, astronauts William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman recited the first verses of the Bible. Interestingly, a lawsuit by American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair alleged that the observance amounted to a government endorsement of religion, in violation of the First Amendment, but the case was dismissed.

During the historic first moon landing of Apollo 11, shortly before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out for their walk, Aldrin addressed the people on Earth: “I would like to request a few moments of silence… and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours (the extraordinary landing), and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then took out his crucifix and prayed.

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