First Lunar Bible


On February 5, 1971, the First Lunar Bible was carried to the surface of the moon on board the Apollo 14 lunar module Antares by Lunar Module Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell. While the event itself is fairly well-known, many details of the legend have remained relatively obscure. The Apostles of Apollo reveals the details behind the legend and the stories of astronauts, NASA employees, and others who tried, failed, and tried again the land the Bible on the moon.

The Beginning of the Quest

The quest to land a Bible on the moon was born of the deaths of three Apollo 1 astronauts who died in a flash fire on the launch pad on January 27, 1967. One of these astronauts, Edward White II, had told a reporter before his death that he hoped one day to carry a Bible to the moon. From the ashes of Apollo 1 emerged a NASA information scientist and chaplain John Maxwell Stout with a vision for the Apollo Prayer League and a quest to land a Bible on the moon in the name of astronaut White and in memory of his own brother who was killed while attempting to prevent a burglary. Stout had planned to retire, but decided to stay on and see White’s dream fulfilled.

The Search for the First Lunar Bible

Due to weight restrictions on personal items that could be carried by the Apollo astronauts in their assigned personal preference kits, it was necessary to find a Bible small enough and light enough to be taken. It would also need to conform to NASA-specified requirements for stowing onboard the Apollo spacecraft. Fortunately, a new microfilm technology had recently been developed whereby all 1245 pages and 773,746 words of the Bible could be reduced to a small piece of film the size of a color slide. Here, Reverend Stout recognized, was a Bible that could be carried to the moon.

Apollo 12: The First Journey of the Bible to the moon

At the request of Reverend Stout, Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean agreed to carry a single microfilm of the King James Bible produced by NCR (National Cash Register Company) and published by World Publishing Company. Due to an error in the log manifest, however, the Bible was stowed on board the command module rather than the lunar module and orbited the moon but never descended to the lunar surface.

Apollo 13: The Second Journey

Multiple copies of the microfilm were then purchased by the Apollo Prayer League, of which 512 were packaged for stowing on board Apollo 13. The Bibles were personally presented to the Apollo 13 crew prior to launch by then-congressman George H.W. Bush accompanied by Reverend Stout. However, due to an on board explosion on the way to the moon, the Apollo 13 spacecraft circled the moon and returned to earth without landing. Since these Bibles did not make lunar landfall, Rev Stout did not ask for them back and they were retained by the Apollo 13 crew members as mementos, and only a handful were returned to the Apollo Prayer League archives. 

Apollo 14: The Successful Landing of the Bible on the Moon

A separate reel of 1500 microfilm Bibles were then purchased from Edmund Scientific by the Apollo Prayer League and a group of 300 Bibles were split into two packets:  100 to be carried in the lunar module and 200 in the command module. Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell agreed to carry the Bibles on behalf of Reverend Stout and the Apollo Prayer League; and on February 5, 1971, the quest of Reverend Stout and the Apollo Prayer League was realized when the spindly legs of Apollo 14 lunar module Antares touched down on the powdery surface of the moon.

The First Lunar Bible:

Unbeknownst by many, accompanying the 100 Bibles in Apollo 17 lunar module Antares was a single unique “multi-version” microfilm Bible titled “The First Lunar Bible.” This unique Bible was created, developed, and packaged by members of the Apollo Prayer League employed at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston working on their own time and was comprised of two microfilm versions of the Bible”the RSV (Revised Standard Version) used by Apollo 1 astronaut Ed White II and the KJV (King James Version) Edition 715  placed back to back. This Bible was packaged separately so that Mitchell could leave it on the moon if he chose to do so. Due to time constraints on scheduled lunar surface activities, Mitchell elected not to leave the First Lunar Bible on the surface of the moon; and after his release from quarantine, the Bible was returned to Reverend Stout along with the 300 NCR Bibles.

Documenting the Provenance of the First Lunar Bibles

After their return, each of the Apollo 14 lunar Bibles carried was engraved with an encrypted serial number by Reverend Stout signifying its sequence and placement in the Apollo 14 lunar module or command module. The serial numbers were then entered in the Apollo Prayer League First Lunar Bible Registry along with acknowledgments of specific individuals and organizations that had inspired and supported the Prayer League’s effort to land a Bible on the moon. Several were cut up into tiny 50-page segments for distribution to Apollo Prayer League members and dignitaries. One of the lunar-landed Bibles was later presented to astronaut Ed White’s widow by Reverend Stout.  According to 2009 recorded interviews and signed affidavits by Reverend Stout, no Bibles were released without a five-digit serial number. Microfilm Bibles reportedly from the Apollo Prayer League collection that do not bear five-digit serial numbers and are not authentic lunar Bibles. 

Lesser Known Items of Interest

Also included in the packet with the lunar Bibles was a single microfilm “First Lunar Bible Honor Roll; containing 3,569 names of individuals and organizations selected by Prayer League members as having contributed to their lives or to a worthy cause. The honor roll list can be easily read under a microscope and contains the names of individuals from all ranks and walks of life, including such names as Billy Graham, John F. Kennedy, Socrates, Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jr. George H.W. Bush listed his daughter, Dorothy, and others listed policemen, and everyday citizens. Also included in the Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 lunar Bible Packets was a small folded certificate, referred to by Reverend Stout as a plaque, containing this first verse of Genesis in sixteen languages contributed by the United Bible Societies, as these were believed to be the languages spoken by 60% of the world population. The first verse was in English, followed by Spanish, German, Chinese, and so on. On one corner of the certificate were the names of the Apollo 14 crew members who carried it and on another corner an acknowledgment of the participating organizations. In time the entire group of Apollo 14 Bibles became collectively known as the “First Lunar Bibles.” Many were presented to those closest to the project and to museums and dignitaries, such as George H.W. Bush and President Richard Nixon. A small group of lunar Bibles remain in the Apollo Prayer League archives managed by John and Helen Stout, and those few in circulation have become historic and religious artifacts sought after by collectors, museums, and private inventors While the original glass master of the unique RSV version of the First Lunar Bible remains intact, the whereabouts of the multi-focal microfilm Bible itself remains a mystery.

Museum Bibles

Lunar Bibles can be seen in various museums, including the Dunham Bible Museum of America at Houston Baptist Universityand the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson,KS.