“Godspeed, John Glenn,” radioed backup-pilot Scott Carpenter from the blockhouse as the rockets fired up on Feb. 20, 1962. Astronaut John Glenn piloted Friendship 7, America’s first mission to orbit the earth.
Later that year, President Kennedy stated at Rice University in Houston, Sept. 12, 1962: “Space is there and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and planets are there and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”
The first mission to fly around the moon was Apollo 8 in 1968. The tiniest mistake would have sent them crashing into the moon’s surface or plummeting off into endless space. As they successfully went into lunar orbit, astronaut William Anders snapped the famous Earthrise photo that was printed in Life Magazine.
As Apollo 8’s three man crew looked down on the earth from 250,000 miles away on Christmas Eve, 1968, Commander Frank Borman radioed back a message, quoting from the Book of Genesis: “We are now approaching Lunar sunrise. And for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. …”
Commander Borman continued: “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
Frank Borman ended by saying: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Later Frank Borman explained: “I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us – that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.”
The first mission to walk on the moon was Apollo 11, which blasted off July 16, 1969, from Cape Kennedy.
President Richard Nixon stated in proclamation 1969: “Apollo 11 is on its way to the moon. It carries three brave astronauts; it also carries the hopes and prayers of hundreds of millions of people. … That moment when man first sets foot on a body other than earth will stand through the centuries as one supreme in human experience. … I call upon all of our people … to join in prayer for the successful conclusion of Apollo 11’s mission.”
On July 20, 1969, Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed their lunar module, the Eagle. They spent a total of 21 hours and 37 minutes on the moon’s surface before redocking with the command ship Columbia.
President Richard Nixon spoke to the astronauts on the moon, July 20, 1969: “This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House. … The heavens have become a part of man’s world. … For one priceless moment in the whole history of man all the people on this earth are truly one … one in our prayers that you will return safely to earth.”
President Nixon greeted the astronauts on the USS Hornet, July 24, 1969: “The millions who are seeing us on television now … feel as I do, that … our prayers have been answered. … I think it would be very appropriate if Chaplain Piirto, the Chaplain of this ship, were to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.”
Addressing a joint session of Congress, Sept. 16, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong stated: “To those of you who have advocated looking high we owe our sincere gratitude, for you have granted us the opportunity to see some of the grandest views of the Creator.”
On the Apollo 14 mission, Feb. 6, 1971, Astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard left a tiny microfilm copy of the King James Bible aboard the lunar module Antares on the moon’s Fra Mauro highlands.
On Apollo 15’s mission, 1971, Astronaut James Irwin became the eighth person to walk on the moon. He spoke of leaving earth: “As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”
Later becoming an evangelical minister, Astronaut James Irwin spoke of his experience walking on the moon: “I felt the power of God as I’d never felt it before.”
Astronaut Mike Mullane flew the Space Shuttle Discovery, 1984, then, after the Challenger disaster, he flew Space Shuttle Atlantis, 1988, 1990.
In his book, “Riding Rockets,” Mike Mullane told of the night before a launch, sleepless with apprehension, he checked his nightstand for a Bible but found none. He then wrote: “I didn’t need a Bible to talk to God. I prayed for my family. I prayed for myself. I prayed I wouldn’t blow up and then I prayed harder that I wouldn’t screw up.”
On Oct. 28, 1998, Astronaut John Glenn flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. At age 77, he was the oldest person to go into space – 36 years after he had been the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. John Glenn observed the heavens and the earth from his window and stated Nov. 5, 1998: “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it’s like.”
John Glenn died Dec. 8, 2016, at the age of 95. The next day, the Wall Street Journal printed Tom Wolfe’s article “The Faith of John Glen,” where he shared comments given by NASA’s Mercury astronauts – Malcolm S. Carpenter, Leroy G. Cooper, John H. Glenn, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard, Donald K. Slayton – at a press conference in Washington, D.C., April 9, 1959.
John Glenn stated: “I don’t think any of us could really go on with something like this if we didn’t have pretty good backing at home, really. … My wife’s attitude toward this has been the same as it has been all along through all my flying. If it is what I want to do, she is behind it, and the kids are too, a hundred percent.”
Glenn, who had been elected a U.S. Senator in 1974, added: “I am a Presbyterian … a Protestant Presbyterian, and I take my religion very seriously, as a matter of fact.”
Glenn told of the Sunday school classes he taught, the church boards he served on and church work his family did, then shared: “I was brought up believing that you are placed on Earth here more or less with sort of a 50-50 proposition, and this is what I still believe. We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live.”
Astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom stated: “I consider myself religious. I am a Protestant and belong to the Church of Christ. I am not real active in church, as Mr. Glenn is … but I consider myself a good Christian still.”
Astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton stated: “As far as my religious faith is concerned, I am a Lutheran, and I go to church periodically.”
In addressing Congress, 1962, after his historic flight as the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn stated: “I still get a lump in my throat when I see the American flag passing by.”
In 2010, NASA’s Constellation program was building new rockets and spaceships capable of returning astronauts to the moon, till President Obama canceled it.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden outlined new priorities in an interview with the Middle East News agency in Cairo, Al Jazeera, June 30, 2010: “When I became the NASA administrator… President Obama charged me … perhaps foremost … to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good.”
Though manned space exploration may have taken a pause, Americans cannot forget the tremendous scientific achievements and courage those who dared to go into the unknown, and the prayers of faith that bore them up.
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