Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Footnote to Apollo: the lunar Bibles
Astronaut Ed Mitchell carried 300 microfilmed Bibles to the lunar service on Apollo 14 as a favor to friends in the Apollo Prayer League, a group of Christians at NASA who prayed for the success of the mission. A further 212 were carried on other missions. One that came up for auction fetched $56,000, and thereby hangs a dispute over this fascinating bit of history, when faith and high technology came together. The minister and his wife who spearheaded the project are elderly and under state care, but a freelance writer who says they authorized her to sell the four in her possession is in a legal dispute with the state and the couples' son. That part is sad, but the intersection between our spiritual aspirations and exploration is an interesting topic. Explorers have prayed for success as long as there have been explorers, and this continued into modern times, as when Pope Paul VI famously led Catholics in St. Peter's Square in prayers for the Apollo 13 astronauts, or in the prayer service led before human explorers embarked with the aliens in Spielberg's classic film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As a Christian myself, I believe the exploration of the universe is almost a commandment. Whether we are or are not the only intelligent species in the cosmos, we are not here to hide on our little rock. We're supposed to seek, to find, to know, not only for science but also for spiritual growth, for perspective. And it will be fascinating when (as I think) we do contact aliens, although that's not likely to happen in my lifetime. Will they have a spiritual life? I strongly suspect they will. I think any species that evolves self-awareness will look up at the sky and wonder.