The Responsibility Handed Down by Apollo

I have been used to getting visits to my blog every day from searches about the Moon landings because of the short piece I wrote one year ago today. While everybody focuses on the the big round numbers when it comes to civic anniversaries, I have kept focus on the achievements of the Apollo program even through the leaner times. With everybody writing for the last week or more about the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing, I doubt very many people will pass this way.

I have been caught up in the hype as well, taking advantage of the various Internet opportunities to remember Apollo 11. I have used We Choose the Moon from the JFK Presidential Library. I have read along with the transcripts of the mission tapes from NASA as I listened to the real-time (+40 years) streaming audio. The BBC News Channel covered the news briefing today in Washington DC attended by Walt Cunningham, Jim Lovell, Dave Scott, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Tom Stafford, and Gene Cernan. Even as I am writing this, the Ron Howard documentary In the Shadow of the Moon is on Channel 4.

Neil and Buzz may have been the first to walk on the Moon, but the Apollo program was full of firsts. The entire program could have been completed (instead of cutting out the final three missions) and they would not have run out of firsts. Sadly, TV audiences get bored so Congress started thinking about how much more money it could appropriate to more worthy causes, like blowing up villages and rice paddies in Vietnam controlled by people with the wrong political ideas. Why continue to advance the edges of scientific understanding on a cosmic scale when you can buy more napalm?

Buzz Aldrin’s new memoir was timed to come out at the same time as the 40th anniversary. He has been making the rounds on a promotional tour, using the opportunity to push his view that we should leave the Moon behind and go straight to Mars. When I watched today’s briefing, I saw just how forcefully his pushes this idea. Most of the other living Apollo astronauts seem to favour returning to the Moon as a staging point for perfecting base-building on a non-terrestrial body before going on to the Red Planet.

As much as I want to see missions to Mars in my lifetime, and as smart as Buzz is, there is still so much to be learned from our only known natural satellite. We need to go own the Moon, so to speak. Not in the legal sense – I think the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is a good thing (not to be confused with the unratified Moon Treaty of 1979 which is completely bonkers) – but use of the Moon needs to be fully established. It would be so much more useful than that floating white elephant known as the International Space Station. The Moon has resources to be tapped that could make a dramatic difference to life on Earth without there being any chance of damaging the Moon itself.

I was struck by once again by Jim Lovell’s revelation that from the Moon you can put the whole Earth behind your thumb. Other astronauts have talked about how tiny and fragile it looks from 240,000 miles away. Writing 3,000 years ago, the singer-songwriter David ben Jesse could not have imagined the how much more meaningful his words would become in December 1968 when Bill Anders took the famous Earth-rise photo from Apollo 8.


When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

That God cares about a tiny blue planet suspended in space is amazing enough. That out of all the universe He came down and became man and shared in our suffering is mind boggling. That we have the technology to go beyond this planet to explore the wonder and value of His creation is a responsibility that should not be ignored.

Finding God in Space

One of my Christmas presents was the DVD set of From the Earth to the Moon, the Apollo program docu-drama mini-series Tom Hanks executive produced after he starred in Apollo 13. My wife thought it was new and didn’t realise that I saw it when it was originally released, but she also didn’t know that I wanted to see it again. We have gotten through nine of the twelve discs so far.

One of my Year 7s recently informed me that science has proven that there is no God because people have been to space and didn’t see him up there. Apparently, if there would be any one who would be an atheist, it would be an astronaut. If anything would seem to be the pinnacle of human achievement – of man proving his dependence upon his own scientific prowess – it would be the Apollo program. It took man further than he’s ever been.

On Apollo 8, the first men to reach the Moon marked the occasion by reading from the Bible while in lunar orbit. And not just any part of the Bible. They read from Genesis 1. Frank Borman also read a prayer which was recorded to be played at the midnight service at the Episcopal Church where he was a lay reader. Because they got sued by Madalyn Murray O’Hair over the Genesis reading, NASA got skittish about any further religious expressions being publicly broadcast.

On Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin discreetly took communion inside the Lunar Module shortly after arriving on the surface of the Moon. The Lunar Module pilots of both Apollo 15 and Apollo 16, the late James Irwin and Charlie Duke, both got involved in Christian ministry in life after NASA. Irwin led several expeditions to Mt Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark. This would seem to indicate a belief in the literalism of Genesis.

Though I don’t know Dave Scott’s specific beliefs, when the Apollo 15 commander parked the Lunar Rover for the final time, he placed a small red Bible on the controls. According to Andrew Chaikin, “If anyone should come this way again, he wanted them to understand who had left his machine here.”

Ed Mitchell also has a spiritual side to him, though it has more to do with the paranormal and the power of the mind. He says that his spiritual awakening in space was the same as Jim Irwin’s, “But you express it in terms of your own belief system, your own experience, and your training.” I would say that either common grace allowed him to experience the omnipresent God because he was open to experiencing something outside of himself, or possibly as Dotty Duke once said “It’s spiritual, but it’s not really the Holy Spirit…”

I don’t know about any of the other Apollo astronauts, but these would disagree with my Year 7. Going to space doesn’t disprove the existence of God. For some it has had the opposite effect.