Forty years after Neil Armstrong set the first human foot on the moon, what does the future hold for human beings in space?
On the 40th anniversary of mankind's first step on the moon, what is our place in the universe? Will we ever really "conquer" space?
As the countdown neared zero, the Saturn V rocket engine roared to life. The fiery smoke billowed upward, for a moment almost appearing to engulf the tiny spacecraft perched atop the rocket. As the smoke cleared, Apollo 11 rose slowly and gracefully in the bright Florida sky. The time was 9:32 a.m. (EDT), July 16, 1969. Eager viewers watched from the ground at the Kennedy Space Center, and from their living rooms around the world, until the 363-foot ship carrying three Americans disappeared into the heavens.
Within twelve minutes, the crew was in orbit around the earth. Three days later, the intrepid explorers were orbiting the moon. On the next day, July 20, 1969, 500 million pairs of human eyes were glued to television sets around the world to watch an event that some consider a more important milestone than the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean or the building of the pyramids in Egypt.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke his now-famous words when his foot touched the fine dust of the earth's only natural satellite: "That's one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind." Leaving the shelter of their lunar module, "Eagle," Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first two human beings ever to walk on the moon.
Forty years later—on the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing—what is the future of manned space travel? Have we conquered space? Will we ever? Will human beings ever really live "out there" in outer space? Believe it or not, your Bible has the answers.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the earth. Recognizing the political and military issues at stake, U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1961 committed his nation to the goal of putting a man on the moon by decade's end.
But the desire for space travel did not begin in the years after World War II. Author Tom Crouch reminds us of the words of astronomer Johannes Kepler, who in the 16th century wrote: "There will certainly be no lack of human pioneers when we have mastered the art of flight… Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes…" (Aiming for the Stars: The Dreamers and Doers of the Space Age," p. 10).
The best thinkers of the past could only imagine—somewhat fancifully—how travel outside of the earth might be. As writer Ron Miller describes, "In 1638, author Francis Godwin described being carried to the Moon by geese… In 1657 author Cyrano de Bergerac made fun of Moon travel stories by launching his hero in a rocket… In 1865 author Jules Verne shot his astronauts to the Moon from a giant cannon" (Space Exploration , p. 6).
As the world entered the 20th century, these dreams began to turn into reality. As a young boy, Dr. Werner Von Braun dreamed of interplanetary travel. Author Michael Neufeld recounts how Von Braun's imagination was captured by an article in an astronomy magazine, which "described an imaginary trip to the moon… It filled me with a romantic urge. Interplanetary travel! Here was a task worth dedicating one's life to! Not just to stare at the moon and the planets but to soar through the heavens and actually explore the mysterious universe! I knew how Columbus had felt." (Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, p. 4). Von Braun would later work for the United States space program after the war, playing a significant role in the Apollo project.
A major breakthrough for space travel came in October 1942. At the Baltic coastal town of Peenemunde, Germany successfully tested its first supersonic rocket. Speaking to the group gathered that day, project manager Walter Dornberger commented: "We are the first to have given a rocket a speed of thirty-three hundred miles per hour." He added, "Our rocket today reached a height of nearly sixty miles. We have invaded space with our rocket; we have proved rocket propulsion practical for space travel..." (Countdown: A History of Space Flight, T. A. Heppenheimer).
Twenty-seven years later, on the day when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, President Richard Nixon telephoned them from the Oval Office. What did he say? "This certainly has to be the most historic phone call ever made," the President said. "Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world" (The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States From 1953, Erik Barnouw, p. 328).
Yes, we have "invaded" the heavens—the space surrounding the earth has become a regular part of our world. In the last four decades, thousands of satellites have been launched into the earth's atmosphere by the United States, Russia, Japan, France, India, Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, the ESA (European Space Agency), and China. All this "space traffic" has left much dangerous debris in orbit, sometimes traveling at thousands of miles per hour, with the potential of doing horrific damage to other satellites and manned vehicles. That is one reason why the world was alarmed when, in January 2007, China shot down one of its aging Fengyun weather satellites. The blast released "a hailstorm of dangerous orbital debris," further threatening other satellites and orbiting craft ("Space Wars," Scientific American, March 2008, p. 79).
To add to the "extra-terrestrial traffic," commercial airliners may soon be taking their passengers higher than they have ever gone before! The German space agency DLR is developing a "Spaceliner" that will "fly at 14,000 miles per hour and deliver 50 passengers from New York to Sydney in less than 90 minutes—through space" ("Hypersonic Commercial Flight: 2050," Popular Science, May 2009, p. 38). This is only one of several carriers booking tickets, for prices as high as $200,000 and more!
Realistically, is this as far as men and women will ever travel? Or is it inevitable that human beings will someday colonize the moon, planets, and beyond? Is that our destiny?
The yearning to be out in space—to go and explore the outer limits—is undeniable. Human beings naturally want to see what is over the horizon—even if that horizon may be interstellar! John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said, "It's not primarily about science… It's to test the belief that humans are destined to live in other places except earth" ("Lunar Living," Smithsonian, July 2008, p. 19).
The problem is—human beings were not designed for space travel! This is an obvious obstacle to real space exploration. Even traveling to the moon—a relatively short distance of "only" about 238,000 miles—presents daunting and deadly difficulties. Astronaut Michael Collins recalled the thoughts that raced through his head as he prepared to board Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. He remembers calculating his chances for success—or even survival: "I think we will escape with our skins, or at least I will escape with mine, but I wouldn't give better than even odds on a successful landing and return. There are just too many things that can go wrong. Fred Haise [the backup astronaut who had checked command-module switch positions] has run through a checklist 417 steps long" (Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, edited by Edgar M. Cortright, NASA SP; 350, Washington, DC).
Think about it! The 30 Apollo astronauts who eventually circled the moon, and the twelve moonwalkers who landed on it, trained for years, preparing meticulously for every detail. A mistake could mean their death, and the death of their fellow astronauts! Astronaut Aldrin related in his diary that since the lowest step of the lunar module was 3½ feet off the surface of the moon, they had to patiently practice climbing up and down the steps in their bulky suits—lest they find they could not re-embark after their moon exploration was completed!
Men and women have risked—and sacrificed—their lives to explore space. The space shuttles Challenger and Columbia were lost in tragic accidents in 1986 and 2003, killing all onboard. The Apollo 13 astronauts narrowly escaped death after an exploding oxygen canister damaged their equipment. The astronauts on Apollo 14 also narrowly escaped a tragic end. During their moonwalk, they almost became lost!
But even if the environment in space were not inherently hostile to living and breathing beings, the awesome distances involved in interstellar space travel make it unrealistic for us with our current technology. Experts say that a trip to Mars could take just a few months (one way). But what about traveling outside our solar system? The nearest star is Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away. At the speed of our present space shuttle—17,500 miles per hour—it would take explorers more than 160,000 years to reach the nearest star. There simply is not enough time in human life to do that kind of space exploration!
Are human beings destined to live on other planets than the earth? Will distant galaxies someday be part of your world? God is offering His obedient children eternal life, without the bounds and limitations of human breath! There is truly a \great gulf" between physical humanity and the spirit realm. Jesus describes this in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In the parable, Jesus propels us hundreds of years into the future. He gives a glimpse of a future event when Abraham (by then a spirit being after the resurrection) speaks to a wicked man who, after being resurrected to physical life at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11–15), is about to be thrown into the lake of fire after a lifetime of refusing God's way. In this future event, Abraham tells this man, "And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us" (Luke 16:26).
What was Jesus talking about? He was explaining that, after the resurrection, there will be a vast gulf between the spirit world and the physical world. The obedient will be resurrected at Christ's return to spirit life— to live forever. But the disobedient, rebellious and incorrigible will be raised to a resurrection of condemnation, to be thrown into the lake of fire (John 5:28–29). The great gulf is fixed between those raised to spirit life and those condemned to death.
The Bible shows that it is mankind's destiny to inherit the earth as glorified Spirit beings. Scripture describes Abraham as "heir of the world" (Romans 4:13). Christ taught that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Revelation 2:26 describes the overcomers ruling over the nations. The parable of the minas (Luke 19:11–27) shows that faithful Christians will rule over cities on the earth. Even the Father Himself will ultimately dwell on the earth, when the New Jerusalem descends to a "new earth" (Revelation 21:2–3).
But what will life on the earth be like for resurrected, glorified beings? They will have life inherent—like the resurrected Jesus Christ, who said that He will give us the glory He has (John 17:22). This may be hard to comprehend, but the Apostle John tried to express it as best he could: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!... Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:1–3).
We cannot yet fully comprehend how we will be like God the Father or Jesus Christ. But when we look at Scripture, the resurrected Jesus Christ was able to "walk through walls" (John 20:19). He was able to "appear or disappear" at will (Luke 24:31, 36). That is what we will be like! Like the glorified Jesus Christ, resurrected saints will no longer be bound by the laws of physics! Will we be able to fly above the clouds, explore the frozen polar regions or dive to the deepest ocean trenches without scuba gear? The ultimate possibilities—with a spirit body and inherent spirit life—are truly amazing!
Notice what the Apostle Paul wrote to explain our coming change at the resurrection: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed…" (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). The Apostle Paul was explaining, in human terms, that being born into the spiritual realm means receiving a spirit body not subject to the limitations of the flesh!
By its nature, the human body is now bound to the earth. God has uniquely and delicately built our planet just right to sustain human life. For example, the earth's surface temperature only varies by about 150 degrees—the exact range within which human life can exist. By contrast, the rest of the solar system ranges in temperature from -459 degrees Fahrenheit (-273 degrees Celsius) on the dark side of interplanetary space to more than 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius) at the sun's core (see "Energy in the Universe," Scientific American, September 1971, p. 59). The temperature in most of the solar system is simply inhospitable to human exploration without special gear and life-preserving equipment.
But beings with bodies of spirit are equipped for a whole new world of possibilities for exploration and discovery! While the earth is destined to be mankind's home, Scripture gives us exciting glimpses of the possibilities of space travel in the future. The author of Hebrews wrote: "You have made him [mankind] a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet" (Hebrews 2:7–8). This describes the current role of humanity, ruling and governing over the earth.
Then, however, he goes on to expand the focus: "For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him" (v. 8). The Greek phrase translated as "all things" would include the whole universe. As the Jamieson, Faucet and Brown commentary points out, "As no limitation occurs in the sacred writing, the 'all things' must include heavenly, as well as earthly things." Ultimately, nothing in the created universe will be excluded from our dominion or rule. God wants to give human beings the opportunity to live and govern not just on the earth, but all over the universe!
As we reflect on the past achievements of mankind's space programs, we are filled with admiration for the brave men and women who "pushed the envelope" of human endeavor. But as we appreciate human beings' achievements, we are painfully reminded of our limitations. And we are awed that God has given us a way to leap over that great gulf separating us from Him! As King David pondered, while he looked out into the heavens, "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" (Psalm 8:3–4). Let us thank God for offering us the awesome gift of eternal life. If we submit to Him and obey Him, we will, at the resurrection, have the amazing opportunity to take "one giant leap for mankind" into the very Family of God!