Rev. John Stout, Cape Canaveral, FL, 1965
Reverend John Maxwell Stout was blind to the obstacles confronting him when he and the 40,000 member Apollo Prayer League he founded undertook to land the first Bible on the Moon.
He forged ahead with the same passion and audacity that took him from the battle fields of World War II, to the missionary jungles of Brazil, and an unlikely friendship with then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who afforded him the orbital data to take the first clear photo of Sputnik ever taken. Along the way, Stout earned a place as tight end on Homer Norton’s 1942 winning Cotton Bowl Team and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the indigenous tribes of Brazil. Portions of his doctoral thesis on multi-cultural communications were presented to the United Nations by US Ambassador George HW Bush.
His iconic path eventually led him to the halls of NASA, where he tracked the millions of parts and subcontractors that powered the behemoth Saturn V rockets that took American astronauts to the moon.
Stout was gallant, charismatic, and brilliant, always pushing the boundaries of possibility. He garnered six degrees in science and theology and a PhD in Linguistics. He befriended astronauts and dignitaries from around the world. As a NASA scientist and ordained Presbyterian Minister, with NASA’s blessings he served as chaplain to the astronauts. When Stout accepted a position in the Apollo program at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, he planned to stay for only one year - no more.
That all changed on January 27, 1967, when Apollo 1 astronaut Ed White II, the young astronaut he had often ministered to, died with his crewmates in a flash fire on the launch pad. As a chaplain to many of the astronauts, Stout had grown close to White, and knew the young astronaut had planned to carry a Bible to the moon.
With this, Stout vowed to stay on and see Ed White's dream fulfilled. But undertaking a religious endeavor in the midst of a government space program was not an easy task. The result was an extraordinary drama that unfolded behind the scenes as America rushed headlong to the moon.
In 1968, shortly before the launch of Apollo 7, he formed The Apollo Prayer League, a prayer group made up of NASA employees and supporters around the world whose mission was to pray for the safety of the astronauts and the spacecraft that would carry them to the moon. One of the primary goals of the group was to land a Bible on the moon in Ed White’s name.
After two failed attempted on Apollo 12 and Apollo 13, on February 5, 1971, Apollo 14 touched down on the surface of the moon carrying a packet of 101 microfilm Bibles. A little over an inch square, each microfilm contained all 1,245 pages of the King James Bible.
Immediately upon their return, Stout meticulously engraved a tiny 5-digit serial number on each Bible and recorded the serial numbers in the official Apollo Prayer League Lunar Bible Registry. Many were distributed to entertainers, politicians, and dignitaries. As each Bible was distributed, Stout entered the name of the recipient in the registry alongside the respective serial number. Some were cut into tiny segments and given as gifts to APL members and their designees. The remaining Bibles were then deposited in the Apollo Prayer League archives.
At the close of Apollo in 1972, Stout quietly disappeared into the shadows of time. The trail of accomplishments he left behind is the stuff of legends.