While I am still in the process of writing about my experiences with my master gardener training, the class itself is still in the process of being on hiatus as our instructor is on vacation. Deserved or not, he is away until next week, leaving me with the subsequent challenge of finding related topics to write about during his absence and the lack of new material to inform these messages. Therefore I have decided to lift my sights to an aspect of nature that is literally out of this world and reflect on an incident which took place when I was 18 years old and the whole world, the inhabitants of this good earth, were enthralled with the space flight program and the goal of reaching the moon before the end of the 60s as the late President Kennedy had encouraged us to do.
Christmas Eve, 1968, we were close. Apollo 8, under the command of Frank Borman, was the first manned flight to orbit the moon. And our communications technology was sophisticated enough to allow those of us with television sets to watch in awe as the passing lunar surface was visible through the window of the astronaut’s command module. It was during this mission that the famed photograph of the earth rising above the moon’s horizon was taken. It was also during this mission that a very touching and unsuspected moment made the whole endeavor, and indeed the entire space project, transcendent. With the moon’s surface in view, Borman read from the first chapter of the book of Genesis about the creation of the universe.
I was reminded of this event recently when I watched a documentary about NASA’s creation of Mission Control as part of the space program. The doc provided a brief history of the origins of the space program, born out of a sense of inferiority to the Russians and the firsts they were setting with their successful rocket launches, satellites, and manned flights around the earth. But the emphasis was on the Apollo program and its determination to land men on the moon and return them safely to an earth they would uniquely understand to be good in a way those of us who are earth-bound cannot ever fully appreciate.
Apollo 8 was the mission that brought us so incredibly close to that goal in a year when we needed the kind of peace on earth and good will to all mankind inherent in the Christmas season. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the riots outside the Democratic convention in Chicago and the increasingly divisive nature of the Viet Nam war gave Apollo 8 the chance to be a unifying achievement and Borman’s inspired message delivered on that promise.
Fifty years later we could use such an achievement and such a message again. The divisions within our society, which prevent us from celebrating anything but another’s humiliation, are no less tumultuous than the internal conflicts of 1968. And even though our technology today makes the 60s look like the proverbial Stone Age, we have no comparable missions to inspire and unify us as a progressive, optimistic and heroic nation of believers in America’s place of leadership among the entire community of nations inhabiting an earth, whose current moral rectitude is in doubt. So I will take this opportunity, and the control I have over these web log posts, to offer my own extraterrestrial message with the legacy of Frank Borman as my celestial guide.
Imagining myself sitting in the enclosed space of the command module, orbiting the moon for the first time in human history, my selection for a message to beam back to the people on earth would come from the same source as Borman’s message, but from a different section, written by a different author, who possessed a similar fascination with the magnitude of the universe. My choice would be the words of a Shepherd-King, who marveled at his place in the cosmos and wrote a song of praise appropriate for every NASA achievement, centuries before any of it was even imagined. He wrote of his own musings:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
The son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
You put everything under his feet ….
Orbiting the moon fifty years ago, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders were the embodiment of this dream. And with this thought in mind, I can think of no better ending than to cue Carly Simon to sing her own passionate anthem for us once again, stating “Let the river run, let all the dreamers wake the nation.” It’s time and we have the need.