Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, 1986

Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, 1986

In 1519, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set out on the first voyage to circumnavigate the world. Sailing for Spain, Magellan began his search for a route to the East Indies by traveling down the coast of South America. Magellan’s fleet reached Cape Virgenes and concluded that they had found a passage because the waters were brine and deep.

Four ships went through the 373-mile long passage which Magellan called “Estrecho de Todos los Santos” or “Canal of All Saints,” as the date was Nov. 1, “All Saints’ Day.” It came to be called the “Strait of Magellan.” On the other side of the strait, Magellan saw the sea very still and peaceful, so he gave it the Portuguese name “Mar Pacifico” meaning “Pacific Ocean.”

The first European to see the Pacific Ocean was Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa who had crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1513, though he called it “Mar del Sur” meaning “southern sea.”

Magellan sailed for weeks without sighting land. His food supplies dwindled and rotted, and men began to perish from scurvy, malnourishment, and dehydration. They sighted a small uninhabited island, restocked supplies, and set sail again on Jan. 28, 1521.

They reached the Marianas, Guam and then the Philippine Islands, which were later named for King Philip II of Spain. Magellan communicated with native tribes through his Malay interpreter, Enrique. They traded gifts with Rajah (King) Siaiu of Mazaua who guided them to the Island of Cebu. The story was that on the Island of Cebu, Magellan met Rajah Humabon, who had an ill grandson. Magellan (or one of his men) was able to cure or help this young boy, and in gratitude Chief Humabon and his queen Hara Amihan were baptized as Christians, along with 800 of followers.

Afterwards, Rajah Humabon and his ally Datu Zula entangled Magellan in a conflict with a neighboring chieftain, Datu Lapu-Lapu of the Island of Mactan. Magellan had wished to convert Datu Lapu-Lapu to Christianity, but he was dismissive. On the morning of April 27, 1521, Datu Lapu-Lapu with around 1,500 of his troops confronted the Spaniards on the beach. Magellan was hit by a bamboo spear, surrounded and then killed.

Magellan’s crew continued to sail the ship, Victoria, and finally made it back to Spain in September of 1522. The Philippine Islands went on to become the most Christian nation in Asia, with 93 percent of its population of 93.3 million being Christian.

The second expedition to circumnavigate the globe was in 1577 led by Sir Francis Drake. Francis Drake was born around 1540 amidst religious upheaval in England. During the Prayer Book Rebellion, 1549, his poor farmer father, Edward Drake, fled with his family to the coast where they lived on an old laid-up ship.

Edward Drake was ordained as a Protestant minister and preached to sailors in the King’s Navy, afterwards becoming a vicar of Upchurch on the Medway. Profoundly influenced, Francis Drake would later have religious services on his ship twice a day. Around the age of 12, Francis Drake was apprenticed to a ship transporting merchandise from France. The ship’s master, having no children, eventually bequeathed the ship to Francis, which began his prosperous sailing career.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Francis Drake sailed numerous times to the Caribbean for trade. He also raided Spanish ships and settlements, resulting in King Philip II of Spain calling him a pirate, El Draque, and offering the equivalent of six million dollars for his life.

In 1577, almost 60 years after Spain’s Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Drake began the second voyage to circumnavigate the world. Drake sailed down the coast of South America and before Tierra del Fuego, passed through the Strait of Magellan.

Through violent storms, he sailed and raided the Pacific Spanish coast of America as far north as California. Turning west, Drake sailed to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, almost sinking on a reef. Drake made it across the Indian Ocean, around Cape Horn and up the coast of Africa back to England in 1580, where he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1588, Sir Francis Drake helped repel the Spanish Armada from invading England. Sir Francis Drake died aboard the ship, Defiance, Jan. 28, 1596, after a failed attempt to capture San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Matthew Fontaine Maury, the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory, was known as the “Pathfinder of the Seas” for pioneering the charting of sea and wind currents. He wrote in “Physical Geography of the Sea,” 1855: “The Bible called the earth ‘the round world,’ yet for ages it was the most damnable heresy for Christian men to say that the world is round. … Finally, sailors circumnavigated the globe, and proved the Bible to be right, and saved Christian men of science from the stake.”

In 1929, the German-built Graf Zepplin made the first round-the-world flight (Weltrundfahrt) in 21 days. In 1931, Wiley Post made the first fixed wing flight around the world in a little over eight days. In 1933, Wiley Post made the first solo-flight around the world in just over 7 days. He discovered the jet stream and pioneered use of the gyroscopic auto-pilot, radio direction finder and the pressure suit. In 1982, Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay Coburn, flying the Spirit of Texas, completed the first round-the-world flight by helicopter.

The first person to orbit the earth in space was Russian-Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, followed by American astronaut John Glenn, Feb. 20, 1962.

From 1981 to 2011, the Space Shuttle program flew 135 missions which orbited the earth launching satellites, interplanetary probes, the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as performing scientific experiments and building the International Space Station.

In 1984, astronauts Captain Bruce McCandles and General Bob Stewart stepped out of the Space Shuttle Challenger and performed the first un-tethered extravehicular activities using Manned Maneuvering Units, while orbiting a million feet above the earth.

In an interview with Reasons to Believe, Oct. 1, 2000, an organization founded by internationally renown astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross, General Bob Stewart stated: “Your first view of the home planet is breathtaking. Maybe that’s how God intended it to be viewed. …”

General Stewart continued: “I had been teaching a Sunday school class here at High View Baptist Church in Woodland Park and the class had decided that they wanted to study Genesis. … The message I hope to get across is that you don’t have to give up your intellect to be a Christian. … It gets harder to reach a person for Christ when that person is highly educated and sure of the primacy of science in this world. Reasons to Believe is the first organization I know of that attempts to tell those people that there is no conflict between religion and science. They both use their own peculiar language to communicate the same eternal truths: that this universe was brought into existence out of nothingness; that it is especially fine-tuned for the existence of life on this rare, if not unique planet; and that God did it. …”

General Stewart, who had been a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam, continued: “I led off with a primer on relativity so my class could see the historical and logical background of this theory and lose their fear of it. This was necessary because I intended to talk about the creation event in terms of the big bang, and I wanted my class to understand that this was not just something physicists thought up in a vacuum. I wanted to approach the existence of human beings on this planet from the standpoint of their unique relationship to the Creator and back that up with some modern numerical biology statistics concerning the probabilities of life existing at all from random processes. …”

General Stewart, who had logged 289 hours in space, concluded his interview: “I hope to continue to challenge the person who is scientifically oriented with the idea that life would be prohibitively unlikely unless it were created by God. … In my life I have made a remarkable transition from a person whose faith was in science to the exclusion of religion, to being a person who holds the Scriptures to be truth with science just catching up after 4000 years.”

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The courage and risks of space travel were realized with the loss the Space Shuttles Columbia, which broke apart on re-entry in 2003, and the Challenger, which exploded just 73 seconds after lift-off on Jan. 28, 1986. The Challenger’s entire seven member crew was killed, including a high school teacher-the first private citizen to fly aboard the craft.

In his address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan stated: “Today is a day for mourning … a national loss. … The members of the Challenger crew were pioneers. … The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future.”

Reagan continued: “The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”

President Reagan added: “There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, ‘He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.’ Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.”

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