This season is obviously an important and sacred occasion for a lot of people. It also happens to be the anniversary of another more recent, yet less spoken of occasion. First, I need to set the stage. The year is 1968, and the Space Race between America and the Soviet Union was about as tense as the Arms Race at that time. The Americans came back from the tragedy of the Apollo I fire with several successful manned and unmanned flights of the new Apollo capsule, only to stumble once more: The Lunar Module (LM, or “lem”) landing craft was delayed, and would not be finished in time for NASA to continue their carefully planned schedule of incremental steps to the moon.
Rather than wait on the LM, NASA made a gutsy move that would change history forever: Electing to continue with the next planned mission, it was decided that it would be scaled up instead of down. Rather than play it safe, the managers and engineers behind the program chose to skip several of the testing and evaluations they had planned, and go for broke by going ahead and sending the next mission not into orbit, but to the all the way to the moon on the brand-new, never-before-used Saturn V. The crew of the newly re-tasked Apollo VIII, which was never meant to leave Earth orbit, now found themselves scrambling to prepare to become the first humans to travel to another world.
Despite the risks, the astronauts bravely set out on their voyage, and, over forty years ago this past weekend, their gamble paid off. First, the astronauts witnessed something unforeseen by NASA simulators and training programs: The Earth emerged from behind the lunar surface in what was later called “Earthrise,” which would become one of the most famous and inspiring photographs ever taken. It was then that the crew felt moved to do something equally unplanned and unexpected: As they broadcasted live video of the magnificent sight, Commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders each took turns reading aloud the Book of Genesis’ account of the Creation to what is now estimated was one-fourth of all people alive at that time.
“…And from the crew of Apollo VIII, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
Together, that picture and their message changed the way we view the world. Regardless of whether you choose to believe that this world was made by a benevolent Creator, or simply “happened”, you have to admit: it turned out really well for us. I myself have conducted a scientific investigation of my own. After observing the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean through an airplane window, setting in the orange grove valleys of California, hiking through the forests of southern Germany, and looking out alone over the moonlit beaches at St. Augustine, FL, I have concluded that the human race really lucked out on that one. We should all take a moment to ponder how truly blessed we are to live here on “the good Earth”.
Whatever side you listen to in the raging scientific and political debates over our environment, I think we all can agree that this planet is a keeper, and is worth taking good care of. After years of searching, we have yet to find any place quite like it, let alone life itself. Not only are we lucky to live here, we’re lucky to be alive in the first place.
What’s more, we humans are unique from all other forms of life we know of. While all life is free to multiply and fill the measure of their creation, we alone have the ability to spread out beyond the confines of Earth. Our potential as a species, the measure of our creation, is greater than a planet: it is infinite. We alone can be not only the guardians of life here on Earth, but also the means of spreading life to other worlds now barren and empty. I would go so far as to say it’s our duty—otherwise, the gift of “the good Earth” will have been wasted.
As I’ve said many times before, if we will commit ourselves to this most noble endeavor of exploring outer space, we will have the opportunity to give our children a gift that no one (except maybe God) has been able to give to them: the gift of a new world, with all of the endless possibilities, limitless potential, and hopes and dreams that come with it. Future generations will be forever grateful to you for it.
Now there is a Christmas gift.
On behalf of us here at Take Back the Sky, Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year to all of you here on the good Earth!
Jeff Cunningham and Christopher Tobias