tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Reflections on the moon landing

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. The 1960s, when I was growing up, are remembered for a lot of things but I contend one of the decade’s greatest contributions to the world was the hope it offered through the magnificent achievement of the moon landing. I remember the Gemini and Apollo missions, particularly Apollo 11, the highlight of summer, 1969.

Thirty-eight years ago today, man was on the moon for the first time. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended onto the moon in their Lunar Module, which was named Eagle, on July 20. About seven hours after landing, they emerged to have a look around, plant an American flag, and collect rocks.

I remember watching the grainy, black and white images of the two men, bounding around on the moon’s surface, where gravity has only one-sixth the pull it has on earth. I was 8 years old at the time but my parents let me stay up to watch the historic event. As I recall, Armstrong climbed down the ladder on the leg of the Lunar Module at about 10:30 p.m. local time. They spent less than two hours walking on the moon. By the time they returned to their space craft and blasted off to rejoin their orbiting colleague Mike Collins, it was July 21.

Of course, I was too young to contemplate the sacrifice required to get those men to the moon – three astronauts died in an Apollo 7 fire in 1967. And I really had no comprehension of the political nature of the effort. We were trying to beat the Russians to the moon. We won, although the fact that we made it impressed me enough that I didn’t really care that we beat anyone there.

As I grew into my teen years and started riding roller coasters I quickly learned I wasn’t cut out to be an astronaut. If I couldn’t handle a ride at Valley Fair, I certainly couldn’t handle a ride in a space ship. So, for a while I thought I wanted to be one of those engineers at Mission Control…one of those guys with a slide rule on my belt. But it turned out I was better with words than numbers so today I am a writer, only thinking about space exploration, not participating in it.

I learned an interesting fact about Apollo 11 recently while reading volume 2 of Bill Bennett’s America, The Last Best Hope. Surveying American history, Bennett writes about the moon landing and includes the fact that Aldrin conducted a mini communion ceremony in the Lunar Module upon their landing. He brought wine and bread with him. He poured the wine into a cup and broke the bread. He asked for silence from Mission Control so he could pray.

I Googled Aldrin to learn more. Evidently, it is a true story but nothing was said about it at the time because NASA was all ready in trouble for allowing Apollo 8 Astronauts to pray aloud as they circled the moon on Christmas Eve in 1968. I remember that space flight too. In fact, my mother gave me a plaque that displays one of the prayers the astronauts said that evening. NASA was sued by atheists who protested government dollars funding any public display of religion.

Personally, I can’t think of anything more natural upon landing on a new world than celebrating communion. That’s exactly what Noah did after the flood when the ark finally settled on land. (Gen. 8:20)

The internet research I did identified Aldrin as Presbyterian. I don’t know the theology Presbyterians bring to communion, but we Catholics call the communion ceremony Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.” Noah was grateful for the new world, and so was Aldrin. It is a pity the lawyers prevented the ceremony from being broadcast to the entire world. Many people were very grateful for this moon landing – and all the opportunity it represented, all the hope it offered. I know I was, even to this day.

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