By FATHER BRUCE WILKINSON, Commentary | Published July 17, 2019
In the autumn of 1966 a brand new type of television show aired by opening with these words—“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
These words captured the heart and mind of a kid growing up on the Southside of Chicago—a child who had a tremendous love for astronomy and space, and who built models of space ships and NASA rockets. That kid was me, and I believed that our nation would fulfill the words of President John Kennedy to send a human being to land on the moon before the end of that decade.
That promise was realized on July 20, 1969 with the mission of Apollo 11.
Our nation and the world are in the midst of recalling the 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing event. I am one of those who is caught up in the remembrance of what is now two generations back, but for me the Apollo 11 mission is as fresh in my mind as if happened only a short time ago.
I still have in my “treasure box” of history the original copies of the Chicago Tribune newspapers covering the entire mission, the special commemorative issues of Look, Life and Time magazines, and perhaps the oddest of items, cassette tapes that I recorded of the televised specials narrated by Walter Cronkite which aired after Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. These items remind me of what was and what is still possible.
Apart from the historical significance of this moment in our human journey why should this accomplishment matter to us today, especially to the Christian community? There can be no doubt that all of us take a moment to look up at the sky, especially at night. While what we see is rather limited because of the abundance of electric lighting and city pollution, we can always experience the brightest stars, planets and, of course, the moon.
Beyond our limited human experiences on earth is an unimaginably large universe that God created to tempt our minds, to dream of what could be and to be surprised by what we continue to discover is out in space and the cosmos. Like the many thousands of people of NASA who took the steps to enable humans to land on the moon, God asks us to venture into the joyous mystery of creation’s beauty, both visible and invisible.
When we look up at the sky and see the moon—recalling the human journey that let us walk on its surface 50 years ago—we recognize that our discovery of the wonders God has made is still in its infancy.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Scriptures tell us that we are made in God’s image and likeness. And with that amazing truth, we are asked to continue growing to see just how glorious and good God’s cosmos is. Just as was stated at the beginning of every episode of Star Trek, we are called to boldly go as a Christian people where no one has gone before.
Father Bruce Wilkinson retired from active ministry in 2017. He belongs to the Atlanta Astronomy Club, which hosts gatherings on astronomy and star-viewing parties. He is a member of the The Planetary Society, of Pasadena, California, The McDonald Observatory, run by The University of Texas at Austin and of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. He attended its Astronomy and Faith workshop in 2016