Frank Borman, Genesis-Reading Astronaut, Travels Beyond the Stars
The Apollo 8 crew is best remembered for
its Christmas Eve reading from Genesis 1
Space flight has a profound influence on astronauts, stimulating deep thoughts. Some of the Apollo astronauts were moved to read the Bible on their moon missions.
The most memorable case was on the flight of Apollo 8 (December 1968), the first manned flight to orbit the moon. Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders were the first to ride the mighty Saturn V rocket built by Wernher von Braun‘s team, and the first to see the Earth rise against the blackness of space. After having experienced that first-ever dramatic perspective of our home planet standing isolated like a blue jewel hanging on nothing (Job 26:7), the astronauts took turns reading from the opening words of Genesis. This moment was recaptured in a short video from Illustra Media:
Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, died on November 7 at the age of 95. James Lovell, also 95, is now the oldest living Apollo astronaut. After Apollo 8, he endured the hazards of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Bill Anders, now 90, also remains of the three-man crew.
An article at the Smithsonian Magazine says that after NASA told Borman before the flight that he would have an opportunity to “say something appropriate” on Christmas Eve from orbit, Borman got the idea of reading from the Bible’s book of beginnings from the wife of a friend.
The first ten verses of Genesis from the Old Testament would have “universal appeal and a sense of reverence that is called for,” agreed Bourgin. As he told Borman, “About the only thing I can think of to match the majesty of the occasion, and the evening, is to read the opening lines of Genesis.” When Borman shared the idea with crewmates James Lovell and William Anders, they also agreed. The passage, typed on fireproof paper, was inserted into the Apollo 8 flight plan.
Nobody at NASA knew the plan till Bill Anders began by saying, “We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you. ”
Surprising NASA and everyone on Earth, the famous words in classic King James English came across the radio from 240,000 miles away: In the Beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Anders read verses 1-4, Lovell read verses 5-8, and Borman read vs 9-10, adding his wishes for “a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Space.com recounted previous interviews where Borman later shared his thoughts of the historic occasion.
“A vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing,” said Borman, describing what he saw while looking out of the command module’s windows.
The Dec. 24 broadcast concluded with Borman and his crew in reading from the bible’s Book of Genesis.
“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth,” Borman said, ending what immediately became an iconic moment of the Apollo program.
“Looking back at the Earth on Christmas Eve had a great effect, I think, on all three of us. I can only speak for myself, but it had for me,” Borman later said in his NASA oral history. “Because of the wonderment of it and the fact that the Earth looked so lonely in the universe. It’s the only thing with color. All of our emotions were focused back there with our families as well. So that was the most emotional part of the flight for me.”
The reading was re-enacted in Tom Hanks’ 12-part docudrama, From the Earth to the Moon.
According to Christianity Today, Borman was raised Episcopalian and remained in the church into his adult life. He had a simple a faithful belief in God. “I’m not aware of any man that could undertake this kind of journey without some belief,” Borman told reporters. “Or at least I couldn’t.”
More Bible in the Apollo Program
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, still living, performed communion as his act of faith after the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon. He also quoted from Psalm 8 on the return journey back to earth. That story was recounted by Illustra Media:
Aldrin, now 93, gave remarks on Veterans Day 2023 to guests honoring him with a statue at an Air Force base in Texas where he had trained on fighter jets (AMAC.us). His remarks recall Reagan’s description of America as a “shining city on a hill,” a reference to Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Aldrin said,
“America was that again during Apollo, when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, when Neil and I left our footsteps there, and when Mike brought us home.”
“Here is the truth. America is still that beacon today. We are a beacon in a storm-tossed world, a place people believe in. We need to take that to heart.”
Some of the Apollo astronauts carried microfilm copies of the Bible to the moon (21 July 2019). The book that has influenced more people on Earth than any other text now resides on some of the intelligently-designed hardware on the lifeless, bleak, cold lunar surface.
It wouldn’t have been quite the same to read from Darwin’s Origin of Species at Christmas 1968, would it? Or to hear Carl Sagan’s forlorn words, “We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” No, Carl, it is a Privileged Planet, and we are a Privileged Species.
But why are we such tiny specks on a pale blue dot? According to Wikipedia, Anders gave in to doubts when seeing how small the Earth was from space. Why would God care about specks on a speck like that?
Reasoning about habitability shows that sentient physical beings like us must be of small size compared to the universe, so that we can be held gravitationally to a planet the size of Earth, orbiting the right kind of star. This is the only way we could fulfill God’s purpose for us to manifest his attributes of love, mercy and justice. If we were as big as stars, we would crash into each other! We would merge into one larger star. No individuality or fellowship would be possible.
More locally—granting the need for an Earth-sized planet—if we were creatures much larger (like sauropods) or smaller (like mice) than we are on average, it would severely limit our mobility or opportunity to serve as stewards of the Earth. In a physical universe, we have to be the size we are. No matter where God put us, we would wonder, why here? But since God is omnipresent, our physical size is not an issue. What matters is our mission, and God has given us the ideal location in all the universe to live, and move, and have our being. See Michael Denton’s book The Miracle of Man (also the short video Fire-Maker) to marvel at the number of “goldilocks coincidences” that give us human beings fantastic resources and capabilities right here on the “good earth.”
One little anecdote from my experience. On the 40th anniversary of Apollo 8 (2008), I passed out a few handouts about the Christmas Eve message from the moon to some co-workers at NASA-JPL. I didn’t make a religious issue about it, but just thought people in the space program would find it interesting to recall that historic occasion. Reactions were polite, with mild interest, not negative but rather tepid, as if some worried it might be politically incorrect to think about the Bible playing a role in what was almost universally held to be a message of hope and peace.
More profound than the emotional impact of that Christmas Eve in 1968, when the world was in turmoil from Vietnam riots but stopped in its tracks for a few minutes to hear the Word of God, is the growing realization from science that we do live in a created, designed universe. The presence of sin, evil and war on our planet cannot quench the scientific fact of billions of molecular machines working in every body of every living thing right now—including yours—under the perfect atmosphere and planetary composition for life. It didn’t just happen. The universe had a beginning. We are here for a purpose, and our lives only achieve fulfillment when our purpose lines up with that of our Creator. Starting on that mission requires admitting and turning from our sin, and embracing the provision God made in his Son Jesus Christ.
Learn more by reading the book by Dr Henry Richter, our Scientist of the Month, who was instrumental in the success of the first American orbital satellite in 1958: Spacecraft Earth, a Guide for Passengers. Dr Richter has contributed articles to Creation-Evolution Headlines.
Bonus: listen to the Apollo March, written for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, with artwork by Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut.