The Good Earth
I am a huge amateur fan of parts of the space program. I say “amateur” because I don’t want to insult true fans by lumping myself in with the group that knows everything. And I say “parts of the space program” because in particular, I am a fan of human spaceflight to the moon and beyond.
I have seen all the the documentaries I can find on the Apollo program (my favorite is In the Shadow of the Moon, by the way). I have read lots of books on the quest for the moon (my favorite is A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin). I own From the Earth to the Moon and watch it usually once every other year or so. I even recently listened to an audiobook that seemed to be a cut-and-paste job from things I have already seen and read–but I listened all the way through because I love this stuff!
There is something incredibly inspiring to me about the quest to touch another world. I know it is expensive, I know it is dangerous, and I know we have plenty of problems to fix here on Earth, but one thing that I think we cannot afford to lose is our sense of wonder. To me, human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit is also a way of exploring and appreciating the great gift of the universe that God has given to us. If we truly turn out to be alone in the universe, that may make some people lonely, but I think it reveals the depth of God’s desire to captivate us with beauty and mystery.
I often say that the one event in history that I wish I had been alive for (other than seeing Jesus, of course) would be seeing humankind land on the moon. And in the grand scheme of human history, having been born in 1983, I just missed it. Also, like so many kids, I dreamed of being an astronaut for a while as I grew up.
That is why the video above is one of the coolest I think I have seen in a long, long time. It was shot during the December 2014 test flight of the new Orion capsule. This capsule went the furthest from Earth that a vehicle designed to carry humans has gone since Apollo 17 in 1972. One day, it might carry humanity back to the moon, to Mars, or perhaps even beyond.
The video depicts the final 10 minutes of re-entry as seen from windows looking out of the top of the capsule. Since the astronauts are oriented to sit facing up, this is the view an astronaut would have through their window during re-entry and splashdown. This video is cool in part because I can put it on full-screen, lay on my back, and pretend to be an astronaut like I did as a kid with much more realistic visuals. But that’s not the only thing that moved me.
Before you watch the video (or watch it again), think about what it would be like coming back from Mars. NASA estimates that it would be a roughly 21 month trip at the shortest (9 months each way with a 3 month stay–you have to stay to make it worth going, and you have to make sure everything is aligned for the return trip). That’s almost 2 years if you don’t stay longer than the shortest trip of value. For almost 2 years, you are away from your family and your friends and your church and all the restaurants and places you like to go. You are always inside a spacesuit, capsule, or structure–within inches of death in the void of space.
Now, imagine coming home. Imagine seeing the blackness you have been surrounded by for two years turning into fire. Then that fire fades into a gradient that ultimately fills yours window with the brightest blue you have seen in two years. This is your home. Your atmosphere. You can live here.
In the book Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth, the author tracks down as many living Apollo astronauts as will talk to him and essentially poses the questions: was it worth it and why? The conclusion many of the astronauts have drawn is that, if nothing else, we saw our home planet as a whole for the first time–and that is vitally important. When every person, country, war, and social issue we have on Earth is seen from a distance where you can hide it behind your thumb, it gives you a different perspective. In many ways, we had to leave Earth to better appreciate what we have here.
I am sure many people are going to scrub their way through the video above, simply looking for the highlights. It is just a test video from an unmanned mission using a piece of hardware that may never actually take anyone anywhere. But I think, when viewed with the right perspective, this video is profoundly moving. So I invite you to join me on the floor, lying on your back, dreaming and giving thanks for all we have here on the good Earth.