Hard moments in life sober us and force us to ponder what we forget – the miracles around us, the blackness of space, how this planet twinkles green and blue, is bathed in moonlight at night, an orb reflecting sun that is warming the other half.
Caught in what we must, we often choose to ponder later. We can, until we cannot. Often, this fact, recognition of our mortality and God’s ubiquity, or how much is still unknown, felt but unseen, invisible and inevitable, is what stops us.
Believe it or not, that recognition stopped Apollo astronauts, too. It caused them to think beyond the mission, ponder the heavens, ask for help, and thank Him.
One thinks of this in August, at Neil Armstrong’s birth in 1930. His Apollo 11 crewmates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, were also born in 1930. Armstrong and Collins would be 93, but let us know early. Buzz still ponders the heavens and thrives.
This, too, is the month of Perseids – a flurry of shooting stars, debris left from the Swift-Tuttle comet, a snowball that loops the sun every 133 years, last in 1995. They call this meteor shower “the tears of St. Lawrence,” martyred in August 258.
That said, the sobering nature of going to the moon, looking back at our planet against the black, so small a thumb covered it, made them ponder – and pray.
First out was Apollo 8, swapped with Apollo 9 to ensure we got the distance before the Soviets. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman flew that mission.
Not by plan but serendipity – or perhaps, one might say, not by mankind’s plan – that swap put Apollo 8 in lunar orbit on December 24, 1968, Christmas Eve.
They read Genesis. Bill Anders began: “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.”
Jim Lovell, later Apollo 13’s commander, continued: “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.”
Frank Borman, concluded: “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 the Seas: and God saw that it was good. 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.”
In time, Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, took pre-sanctified communion from a chalice, and just said: “I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”
In orbit, he read John 15: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”
Before splashdown, he read to the world Psalms 8: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest him?”
On Apollo 15, James Irwin – during lunar exploration – spontaneously recited Psalms: “I’ll look unto the hills, from when comesth my help.”
In a jam, he prayed, “God I need your help right now.” His wife reported: “The Lord showed him the solution to the problem…He was so overwhelmed at…feeling God’s presence so close…at one point he turned around and looked over his shoulder as if He was standing there.”
Dozens of examples mark the record, reminding us strong men pray, not in vain, not always in public, but when alone, contemplating forever, in need and pain.
Little known, Armstrong carried a mustard seed to the moon. Matthew 17: “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Some will say those days are gone; faith in God and America is at an end. I say, think again. Our destiny is a reflection of whether we choose to ponder, pray, strive, and dare – or forget.
Belief got them out and back; those daring men and faith can lift us once again. The truth they all knew? We “came in peace for all Mankind” but did not come alone. We are…never alone.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.