As I ponder the marvels of human achievement, there are several events that come to my mind. Among many things I think of the construction of the pyramids, the mass production of literature, the discovery of the New World, the founding of our democratic society, the invention of the light bulb, and even the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 winter olympics at Lake Placid. Though advancements of useful technologies are made now on a daily basis, there was a pinnacle series of explorations that to me merit the highest of recognition: When human beings broke the bonds of the atmosphere and ventured into the unknowns of space.
Now I am not a scientist nor an engineer and certainly do not claim anything more than a rudimentary understanding of technology. Others might be able to outline specific innovations that led men to the moon even down to the elements and compounds. All I know is that there were gifted people, men and women alike, whose minds were illuminated and driven by something far greater than what I have and probably will ever experience. From the conception of motorized human flight in the mind of Wilbur Wright to veteran military aviators, even astronauts, propelling themselves into infinity and beyond on a billion-dollar rocket-boosted miracle, it is not hard to recognize the greatness of human ingenuity and the explorer spirit.
As the United States gained momentum with the Gemini rocket program in the mid 1960’s, it became clear that we were on track not only to walk on the moon, but return home to tell about it. That, however, needed to be executed in several intricately planned stages. Each Gemini and subsequent Apollo mission was designed to push further than the last, testing a small part of a greater whole. First it was simply launching someone into the stratosphere. Then another to completely orbit the earth. Then they performed several orbits. Then they went to orbit the moon. Then they had the challenge of deploying a manned craft to the moon, launch it again, and somehow dock it again to the mother ship in orbit and come back safely to the confines of earth’s gravity. It sounds completely impossible. But that is how it was done. You can watch countless documentaries about this process and learn a lot, but one particular flight (pre-Apollo 11) struck me more than others.
On December 21, 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida as the crew of Apollo 8 and became the first men to leave Earth’s low orbit en route to the moon. They were the first set of human eyes to see our planet as a whole, as a round object, the “earth rise” – a delicate ornament in an infinite firmament of nothingness. Three days they travelled to ultimately orbit the moon ten times on Christmas Eve. And while tens of millions of people watched the event back home and around the world, those three men took the opportunity to do something that unfortunately in the present day would be considered politically unthinkable. With the attention of the masses focussed on their words, American astronaut Frank Borman chose to communicate the following message:
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you” he said. The crew members then took turns reading these eternally prolific verses recorded in the Bible in the first chapter of Genesis:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
Borman closed with “…And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.”
The broadcast ended and before long the crew splashed grandiosely into the north Pacific Ocean on December 27th. They became TIME Magazine’s “Men of the Year.”
I feel justified when I say that modern demonstrations of faith are not received the same as they were even 47 years ago. Society has shifted to the extreme that even quoting bible verses has become a taboo or even “hate speech” against those that prefer not to “believe.” But those men, the astronauts of Apollo 8, knew that despite the greatest of all human accomplishments for which at the time they had a front row seat, the true greatness and glory belonged only to God and His creations. With all eyes and ears fixed on them, the whole world in their hands, the words they chose were not their own, but those of God. I believe that as humans venture into the vastness of science and discovery, the only true constant worth depending on is the knowledge of the limitlessness of the Almighty and his omnipotent capacity to create – and create for us. The message of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders that night nearly 240,000 miles away from earth was nothing short of a testimony of man’s obscurity despite major scientific feats. I am honored that such men put God first. It is an example to us all.