July 20 in freethought history…

edmundhillaryJuly 20, 1919 – Mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man (with Tenzing Norgay) to summit Mount Everest, is born in Auckland, New Zealand. In later life, when asked if he ever prayed for help, said, “Well, I have no doubt at all that, when I’ve been on slightly questionable expeditions, people have prayed for my welfare, but I certainly haven’t.” When recounting an occasion in which he had fallen into a crevasse, he explained, “Well, my thoughts, which were fairly quick at the time, were just, ‘How can I overcome this?’… Now, I really felt under those circumstances that it was up to me to get myself out of this unfortunate predicament. I didn’t really feel that it would have done me all that much good calling on some great being to suddenly lift me out of this unfortunate situation.” He added, “People who feel they get strength from prayer, of course, should use their prayer.” Hillary died in 2008, aged 88.

aldrincommunionJuly 20, 1969 – Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first human beings to land and walk on the moon. In the rest period between landing and Armstrong’s historic “small step,” Aldrin (an elder in the Presbyterian church) took communion using a chalice, some wine and a wafer that had been packed with his personal effects. He read to himself a passage from the Book of John, but had been asked by NASA not to broadcast his ceremony back to earth because of the ongoing legal battle with Madalyn Murray O’Hair over the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis while in lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, 1968. Instead, Aldrin asked for a moment of silence and contemplation. (Aldrin also admitted he was the first person to pee his pants on the moon.)

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