A Space Oddity

07-21-2019Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I remember it as if it were last night. Watching Apollo 11 blast off from Planet Earth to head to the Moon. Everybody’s first thought was, “will they make it to the surface of the Moon?”. A few days later the spaceship entered the Moon’s orbit and then out popped the Lunar Module with the two astronauts aboard. We watched with great anticipation as the Module made its way down to the surface of the Moon and heard those immortal words: “the Eagle has landed”! It would be several hours before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would step out of the Lunar Module onto the surface of the moon, earning the right to the best bragging rights ever.

“One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Indeed, it was. All brought to us in “glorious technicolor, breathtaking cinemascope and stereophonic sound”. Actually, I watched on a 24-inch black and white TV with rabbit ears. That alone tells you how much things have changed. Afterwards I went outside to look up at the moon hoping to see two men and the US Flag. If my arms are too short to box with God, my eyes were too small to see the astronauts. After that, just about the entire world held its breath that the astronauts would make it off the Moon and back to Earth. The entire mission from start to finish seemed flawless. It was because of Apollo 11’s success that we all knew there was no top to the mountain and no limit on what we could accomplish.

The Moon Landing was not just an exercise in US exceptionalism. But President Kennedy was right to set our sights high and our national motivation to something way beyond what we had ever done. But the Moon Landing and the entire NASA project has enabled us to live in the high-tech world we find ourselves. One of the very first applications of the NASA Research and Development that was applied to life on Earth was freeze-dried foods. Remember TANG? Drinking Orange Juice just like the astronauts! It was actually pretty disgusting tasting but we thought it was cool until we realized we had access to the real stuff here on earth. Save it for space travel!

Because of the Apollo 11 Mission our technology and communications system have developed at breakneck pace. Much of that has been both life-enhancing and at times life-saving. Just think of the 911 System or GPS or Wi-Fi, not to mention the medical devices that have made saving lives so much easier and effective. Yet at times I find myself nostalgic for that rotary phone on the kitchen wall instead of the ubiquitous cell phone that is with us 24/7.

Still I think it was the picture of blue Planet Earth taken from the vantage point of the Moon that really changed us. What Galileo speculated about and what Copernicus mathematically demonstrated was presented to us in technicolor. We are part of a much bigger reality. That is both humbling and gratifying. So, it would seem that the entire Universe was created for us. Funny how thousands of years ago, the Psalmist understood this: “When I look to the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that You should care for him? Yet You have made him little less than a god…”.

In the meantime, our exploration of the Universe continues. Voyager I, which was sent into space in 1977 continues on its mission. In 2013 it left our Solar System and for the first time in history a human creation now travels in interstellar space beyond the influence of Earth’s Sun and is still communicating with Ground Control. Amazing.

For many the exploration of space is a search for intelligent life beyond planet Earth. At this point the belief that there are other life forms in the Universe is a matter of faith. There is no evidence as of yet. But there is plenty of evidence of life here on earth. So far, the fruits of our space exploration have greatly improved life on planet earth. All the more reason that we should treat all human lives in this vast cosmos as the precious and unique gifts they are.

Love,

Fr. John B.

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