Astronaut: There Are No Atheists in Rockets, and Prayer in Space

Putting a new twist on an old cliché, NASA astronaut Michael Good (Col, USAF, Ret) recently spoke on the awe-inspiring experience of space flight:

“They say there’s no atheists in foxholes, but there’s probably no atheists in rockets,” said Catholic astronaut Col. Mike Good, who believes his faith in God was solidified by the awe-inspiring views he saw from space.

The article notes the infusion of faith in the local community and NASA:

NASA employees fill pews in churches surrounding Johnson Space Center, including Webster Presbyterian Church, called the “church of the astronauts” when John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Jerry Carr, Charlie Bassett and Roger Chaffee were active members of the congregation. Later this month, the church will honor the anniversary of Aldrin’s Holy Communion on the moon, the first meal ever eaten on its surface.

Nearby, the Catholic Church St. Paul the Apostle in Nassau Bay depicts Hubble images in its stained glass windows, a design collaboration with space-loving parishioners.

Two years ago Col Good hoped to bring “glory to the Lord of all creation” on a mission to work on the Hubble.

Some atheists apparently took umbrage at Good’s use of the cliché and began accumulating a list of atheist space travelers (they quickly claimed every Cosmonaut).  Good’s remark was little more than a statement of wonder at the expanse of God’s creation, as well as a bit of wry humor.  After all, Alan Shepard once said:

It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.

On a related topic, CNN recently collected a “surprising history of prayer in space,” which begins with Shepard’s other famously quoted prayer:

Dear Lord, please don’t let me f- up.

The article notes the late astronaut claimed he was misquoted.

Another commentary at CNN noted “Space travel is a spiritual experience.”

Most crew of space missions come back changed forever. Astronauts do not see national boundaries, they do not see warring nations, and they rarely notice the ravages of humanity and industry on the face of the planet.
All they see is a stunningly vibrant planet, lots of rich blue-aquamarine ocean, virgin white snowtops on chains of mountain ranges and puffs of cloud cover as the continents whizz by below them in absolute silence. No one is asking them for country of origin or standing in line for visa verification.
They see the whole world as one giant, harmonious living entity. They are immersed in warm and caring embrace; a feeling of oneness with nature is inescapable. From orbit, the idea of a common humanity becomes reality.
If that’s not a spiritual awakening, what is?


  • I imagine when the astronauts don’t see boundaries, they don’t see religions either. And they especially don’t see how one religion could claim truth over other religions.

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  • I can’t remember who, but there was an astronaut in one of those awesome space documentaries that expressed… hrm, atheist/agnostic/skeptical commentary. In general, it seems like pre-existing worldviews are upheld by the experience of going into space, which shouldn’t honestly surprise anyone.

    That said, today I learned atheists cannot have spiritual experiences. I can safely say that, as an atheist, going into space (or, more profoundly, walking on the moon) would be an unimaginably magnificent spiritual experience for me. I wouldn’t have enough tears to express my emotions if I had the privilege to experience that.