Holy Communion in space

Just over a week into the mission, one of us realized it was Sunday again, two weeks after Easter. Our shifts overlapped for a few hours, so during one orbital night Sid, Kevin and I gathered on the flight deck for a short Communion service.

Kevin, a eucharistic minister, carried the Blessed Sacrament with him, contained within a simple golden pyx. The three of us shared our amazement at experiencing the beauty of creation, and thanked God for good companions and the success achieved so far. Then Kevin shared the Body of Christ with Sid and me, and we floated weightless on the flight deck, grateful for this moment of comradeship and communion with Christ.

Our silent reflection was interrupted by a sudden burst of dazzling white light. The sun had risen (as it did 16 times each day) just as we finished Communion, and now its pure radiance streamed through Endeavour’s cockpit windows and bathed us in its warmth. To me, this was a beautiful sign, God’s gentle touch confirming our union with him.

I rolled away from my crewmates, unable to stem the tears evoked by that singular sunrise. My gaze turned to the overhead windows and the Pacific Ocean, the dawn lighting its surface in a rich, limitless blue.

I called out to Kevin and Sid, “Look at that ocean—what an incredible color!” They both turned and drank in hues unmatched by the palette of any human artist. After a moment, Kevin said simply, “It’s the blue of the Virgin’s veil, Tom.” He was right. There were no other words for that vision out the window.

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Astronaut on the moon: “God I need your help right now.”


“I was just amazed to see the earth,” he said. “It reminded me of a Christmas tree ornament – a very fragile one, hanging majestically in space. It was very touching to see earth from that perspective.”

At one point, Irwin had trouble with a planned experiment. “He was erecting an experiment that wouldn’t erect, due to a cotter pin or something of that nature,” Mary recalls.

Frustrated in his attempts to get the experiment to work, Irwin decided he would pray.

While raised in a Christian home – and a believer and churchgoer since age 10, he was a nominal Christian at this stage of his life. “Maybe he walked away from his walk with the Lord a little,” Mary suggests. “He described himself as a ‘bump on a log Christian.’”

But he really needed wisdom due to this problem and he said, “God I need your help right now.”

Suddenly Irwin experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in a remarkable way, unlike anything he ever felt on earth. “The Lord showed him the solution to the problem and the experiment erected before him like a little altar,” Mary says.

“He was so overwhelmed at seeing and feeling God’s presence so close,” she says. “At one point he turned around and looked over his shoulder as if He was standing there.”

This unusual encounter with Jesus – some 238,000 miles from earth, changed Irwin’s life forever.

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