To Boldly Go …

Posted: July 15, 2011 by Jim Killam in history, nature
Tags: , , ,

Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my boyhood was dominated by news about space. America was making good on John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the moon by the end of the ’60s.  I remember watching the live TV broadcast July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong hopped down that last ladder rung from the Lunar Module to the dusty moon surface. His historic line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The moon landing was Apollo 11, and that’s the one everyone remembers. But it was the Apollo 8 mission, in December 1968, that blazed the trail. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders became the first humans ever to leave earth’s orbit.

And as they came into orbit around the moon, they were the first humans to witness and photograph an Earthrise: the entire globe coming into view, from the vantage point of a completely other world. Think about the significance of that moment.

No one has seen an Earthrise since December 1972, the final Apollo moon mission. It’s been almost 39 years since anyone left Earth’s orbit. Cost concerns and the Vietnam War ended Apollo several missions earlier than planned. And now, with the postponement of a Mars mission, it’s going to be an awfully long time before anyone does it again.

It’s hard to believe that, in an 11-year stretch from 1961 to 1972, men reached space, then reached the moon … and then just stopped going where no man had gone before.

In one sense, the 1960s space race was about the Cold War and beating the Russians. But, in a broader sense, it was about the basic human desire to explore the unknown.

As the final space shuttle launched last week, signaling the beginning of a long break in America’s space ambitions, a lot of us felt a little sad. A few of our astronauts will still hop rides on Russian rockets to the International Space Station, but it’s not the same. Space exploration has become space commuting. It’s like an ocean liner never leaving site of shore.

Avoidance of risk and avoidance of adventure, because they cost a lot (and I’m not talking just about money), is a way of life that snags too many people, Christians included. In “Dare to Desire,” John Eldredge wrote:

“God has rigged the world so that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives. … All attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others, just kill the soul in the end. That’s not how we find life.”

Here’s hoping that we go back to space and that we reach Mars and beyond. God has wired us for exploration and adventure. Those slogan writers for The North Face apparel company get it: We’ve lost something as a human race, spiritually, when we stop exploring.


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