Thursday, October 3, 2019

Apollo 11

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 3, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

My eyes were glued to the screen as I watched the enormous crawler-transporter with the Saturn V rocket move slowly towards the launch pad at Launch Complex 39. The crawler is 131 feet long and 114 feet wide. Weighing over six million pounds, the crawler moves with the power of 16 diesel locomotive 16-cylinder engines. The Saturn V rocket on the crawler was over 360 feet tall. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed over six million pounds. As I watched the huge rocket lift off, flames shot out hundreds of yards in both directions, and the rocket slowly made its way up past the launch tower. The Apollo 11 mission to the moon was underway.

I was sitting in a comfortable recliner at the IMAX Theater in Branson, Missouri, watching Apollo 11. The film reconstructs the exciting moments of preparation, liftoff, landing, and return of this historic mission to put men on the moon. The filmmakers used newly discovered, never before seen 70mm footage. The scenes that were unfolding before me were enthralling. I couldn’t believe the quality of the historical footage that I was seeing. As I watched, I was transported back to 1969.

When I was a boy, my heroes were the astronauts in NASA’s space program. I read everything about them that I could get my hands on. By 1969 my interest in space was at a fever pitch. Everyone was talking about the race to land on the moon. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, the entire world was captivated. Every newspaper covered the story. I soaked it all in. The moon landing was a part of pop culture. After watching the moonwalk on TV, the Moody Blues drummer, Graham Edge, penned the poem "Higher and Higher,” which was used to open their next album.

"Blasting, billowing, bursting forth with the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes. Man, with his flaming pyre, has conquered the wayward breezes. Climbing to tranquility, far above the clouds, conceiving the heavens, clear of misty shroud. Vast vision must improve our sight. Perhaps, at last, we'll see an end to our own endless blight, and the beginning of the free.”

As I listened to these words, even as a boy, I realized that this optimism that space exploration would make the world a better place was misplaced. I read in my Bible in Obadiah 1:4 (NCV) “‘even if you fly high like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, I will bring you down from there,’ says the Lord.” As a Christian, I looked to space exploration to learn more about the awesome things God had made. I was excited by the discoveries and what they could show me about how awesome God is.

While I went through High School, I stayed interested in space, but there were many other things to interest me and take up my time. I realized that as interesting as space exploration was, it wasn’t changing things here on earth. By now there had been six moon landings. In just a few years, moon landings had gone from the most exciting and talked about thing on the planet, to being commonplace. The space race was over, and pop culture had found other interests.

NASA didn’t recapture the interest of most Americans until 1981 when the Space Shuttle Columbia made the first flight of a space vehicle that returned to earth and was reusable. Once again man seemed on the verge of conquering the heavens. One of the exciting new directions in space exploration was the Hubble Space Telescope. Nothing NASA had done since landing on the moon captured the interest of the American public as much as the Hubble Telescope. The images that the Hubble produced were breathtaking. When I first saw the images, I thought of the words of David found in Psalms 19:1 (GW). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky displays what his hands have made.”

One Hubble photo fascinates me. It is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Astronomers picked a seemingly empty spot in the sky. Staring at the spot in the sky for ten days, Hubble kept taking pictures one after another for the entire exposure time, accumulating data. Astronomers put the exposures together into one final picture. Each time they added an exposure, the view got deeper, revealing fainter objects. When they finished, they had the deepest picture ever taken of the heavens.
The image is of a small region in the constellation Ursa Major. It covers an area 2.5 arcminutes across; one part in a million of the whole sky. The image contains an estimated ten thousand galaxies. That would mean that the whole universe contains a million times ten thousand galaxies.

Astronomers estimate that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, contains between two hundred and four hundred billion stars. How many stars are in the universe? I will let you do the math. “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, the universe staggers our imagination. It is humbling to realize that our planet Earth is simply a speck of cosmic dust in the great universe that God has created. When David saw the night sky, he was amazed by God’s love for us. In Psalms 8:3,4 he wrote, “I look at your heavens, which you made with your fingers. I see the moon and stars, which you created. But why are people even important to you? Why do you take care of human beings?” Go outside tonight, take a look at the starry sky and know that there is a Creator who cares for you, who died for you and wants to bring you home to live with him.

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