Inside Pope Paul VI's Apollo 11 Moon Landing Message

On July 20, 1969, all eyes were glued to their TVs to watch the historic moon landing – including the pope. He split his time that day between observing the moon through a telescope and watching the TV anxiously from the Vatican Astronomical Observatory at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo (via Vatican News). 

That day, Pope Paul VI became the first Roman Pontiff to send a message into space, blessing the astronauts and congratulating them on their achievement. "Pope Paul VI is speaking to you astronauts: Honor, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the moon." As Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon, the pope reportedly clapped his hands and said, "We are close to you with our good wishes and with our prayers, together the whole Catholic Church."

In addition to his well wishes, the pope, along with other heads of states, sent a message with Apollo 11 to be left on the moon (via Rome Reports). The message left on behalf of Pope Paul VI was Psalm 8, which reads, "When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place — What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?"

Pope Paul VI had a personal interest in space travel

Pope Paul VI had a personal interest in space travel. He was often found in the Vatican Astronomical Observatory peering at lunar landscapes in his spare time. In his first speech of his pontificate, Pope Paul VI discussed the growing field of space exploration and astronomy, stating that with the blessing of God, it had opened up a new era for humanity. The significance of the Apollo missions was not lost on him, and he, like many others, prayed for the astronauts' success.

During a later occasion, the pope gave an astronaut a bronze plaque with the Psalm, "O Lord our God, how great your name throughout the earth." This plaque was brought to the moon to be left on the surface. In return, Pope Paul VI was brought back a piece of the Moon, which is held in Castel Gandolfo to this day (via Vatican News). 

Future popes continued Pope Paul VI's involvement in space

Since Pope Paul VI's involvement in space travel during the Apollo missions, his successors have carried on the tradition. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI spoke with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (via The Holy See). They discussed topics such as how science could help to unite the world, religion's role in the astronauts' lives, what it was like to live on a space station, and the awe of being able to see our planet from such a unique view.

Later, in 2017, Pope Francis had a similar encounter with International Space Station astronauts, asking them questions via satellite communications. He received an authentic, personalized space suit as a gift when he met them at the Vatican a few months later (via Rome Reports). One of the astronauts told the Pope, "We have decided that to begin with, as you are what you wear, to make you one like ours."