Fifty years ago human intellect and persistence achieved the grandeur of reaching the pinnacle of known science. Not since the construction of the tower of Babel had men been able to reach out and touch the heavens. In July 1969 Apollo 11 became the first space capsule to land humans on the moon, a daunting task because of the limited technology.
Half a century ago, the effort of over 400,000 men and women paid off when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins became the first men to venture to the moon. Today NASA supports the International Space Station and is responsible for the Launch Services Program which oversees launch operations for unmanned flights. Thanks to NASA our knowledge of the solar system has increased exponentially.
No doubt by now you have heard or read about the incredible technology that the NASA program has brought our daily lives. Estimates speculate that more than 6,300 discoveries during the bid to understand space are now being used each day. Some of the discoveries are breath-taking, while others today seem so mundane that they have always been a part of living.
Some of the technology has been life-saving and giving. The medical device called the CAT scanner which allows us to produce images of the body using computers and X-rays originally to find imperfections in the ship’s components. A camera lens that detects infrared energy used to monitor the birth of stars today measures body temperature through the ear. From the computer microchip to cordless tools, technology that put humans on the moon today makes earthly life safer, more productive and more consistent.
But technology from NASA has also made life easier and more convenient. Home insulation material uses the same reflective material that protected the spacecraft from heat and radiation. The material used for the seats in the capsules to soften landing and bouncing today is found in pillows, mattresses and helmets. Technology used to fix errors in signals and reduce scrambled pictures and sounds today drives satellite television. Even smoke detectors and shoe inserts had their origins in the space program.
Did you know that the small step for man was also a giant leap of faith for the lives of several?
Buzz Aldrin, an ordained Presbyterian elder, brought up the idea of celebrating Communion during the mission to the moon. NASA was skeptical for they had already fended off a lawsuit after astronauts broadcast themselves reading from the book of Genesis during the Apollo 8 venture. Well-known atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair protested that it was a violation of the issue of separation between church and state, but the case was eventually dismissed.
Aldrin would describe the mission as “part of God’s eternal plan for man” was insistent and officials eventually granted him permission as long as he kept the service quiet. Having received the blessing of the denomination’s headquarters, Aldrin would later tell Guideposts magazine “It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”
Like millions around the world, the moon landing was viewed by the pope at the time, St. Paul VI. The pope watched on television, but also at the Vatican Observatory where he used its primary telescope to view the moon trying to imagine where the astronauts stood. Though not his native language, he greeted and blessed the astronauts in English. The pope later invited the Apollo 11 astronauts and their wives to the Vatican.
Historian Kendrick Oliver noted that there was a pervasive sense of a Christian mission throughout the ranks of the NASA employees working on Apollo. In his book To Touch the Face of God: The Sacred, the Profane, and the American Space Program, Oliver writes that a handful of the astronauts reported a connection to spirituality and divinity while in space and on the moon. Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin said he felt God all around him on the trip. Irwin wandered to the top of a moon hill and quoted Psalm 121, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my strength.”
Irwin was spiritually impacted by travelling to the moon. One year after his journey, he left NASA to form the religious organization High Flight Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I felt the power of God as I’d never felt it before. He would later say that “Jesus walking on earth is more important than man walking on the moon.”
Before his death in 1991, Irwin had led several expeditions to Turkey in search of evidence for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat.
Other moonwalkers have had similar experiences. Gene Cernan, who made the last moon landing in 1972, became a believer when he traveled to outer space. In the documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon,” he commented, “I felt that the world was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be something bigger than you and bigger than me.”
Charles Duke, the youngest man to walk the moon, had a deep, spiritual transformation after flying on Apollo 16 in 1972. He left NASA to enter private business in 1975 and formed the Duke Ministry for Christ to serve as an ordained minister.
Alan Bean, the Apollo 12 moonwalker who later became a full-time painter, said the mission to the moon gave the astronauts the courage and vision to live life to the fullest. “I remember thinking in lunar orbit, that if I got back from this, I was going to live my life differently,” he commented in an interview.
From the Catbird Seat, here’s to the courage and convictions that 24 men had toward the importance of walking on the moon. Let’s hope it doesn’t take require us to be 238,900 miles away from home to have our own leap of faith.
— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.