Update: Christian Missions Aviation…in Space

On August 26th, NASA published a fairly detailed article on what the astronauts were taking up on Discovery when it finally launched last week, as well as the historical precedent that allowed astronauts to take up personal items (as noted in the previous post).

Two days after that article, American Atheists issued a press release criticizing NASA’s decision to allow Mission Specialist Patrick Forrester to take up a part of Nate Saint’s airplane.  The group said the action was a “violation of the separation of church and state,”  as well as “inappropriate and illegal.”

American Atheists also repeated the increasingly common meme that public associations between the United States and Christianity are endangering our troops and our country.  American Atheists’ Vice President Dave Silverman contended that the incident

could fuel international tensions and resurrect images of American-sponsored proselytizing in the Middle East and elsewhere…How do you think the non-Christian peoples of the world react when they see Americans pushing Christianity even in outer space?

Interestingly, the press release incorrectly related the story of Nate Saint (saying the piece was from an airplane crash), despite the fact that the missionaries’ martyrdom was worldwide news and is easily researchable.

In a separate article, the group compares this incident to a detailed account of the atheist opposition to the Bible reading on Apollo 8.  The anonymous article repeats the accusation of a violation of church and state, but then admits

Astronauts are permitted to bring a small amount of trinkets and mementos (flags are a favorite) on board flights. The question is raised, though, of whether any religious ceremonies or artifacts are appropriate in a program funded by taxpayers and dedicated to he [sic] pursuit of science.

It would appear that the only “mementos” with which they are concerned are religious ones.  Rather than treating religion equally, then, they assert that religion should be given special and separate treatment.  Therein lies a large controversy in issues of “church and state.”

It is unclear if American Atheists are familiar with the other associations of NASA with religion, like the use of God of Wonders to wake the crew or Buzz Aldrin’s communion in space, both of which would probably be far more “egregious” to the AA than Nate Saint’s airplane.  Even supporters of the AA critiqued the organization for making a “mountain out of a molehill” and attributing to the US government what an individual citizen personally did.

Strangely, the American Atheist site contributors also diverged into an odd obsession with aliens and religion.  It’s difficult to tell if they were being serious.

American Atheist news first noted at the Religion Clause.


  • Before you accuse others of getting their facts wrong, perhaps you should check your own first. The Vice President and Communications Director for American Atheists is DAVE Silverman, not Dan. With God, all things are possible, with the slight exception of getting someone’s name correct. Sheesh!

  • I have corrected the error. Thanks for pointing it out.