Fifty years ago, men first stepped on the moon. It was a remarkable achievement, but what comes next? What is the next “giant leap” for mankind?
Fifty years ago, humans stepped foot on another world for the first
time in history. The U.S. had achieved an ambitious goal.
But where are we going next? Ideas and ambitions abound.
“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” At 9:56 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke that famous and oft-quoted phrase as his boot touched the lunar soil. After a harrowing descent—nearly a crash—in a lander with an almost-empty fuel tank, Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the Moon. Fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin joined him outside their spacecraft 20 minutes later. After just shy of two hours exploring the lunar surface, Aldrin returned to the lunar module, followed shortly by Armstrong, and in less than a day lifted off to rejoin crewmate Michael Collins in the Apollo 11 command module.
From the moment Armstrong spoke, listeners have disagreed on whether he uttered the “a” he intended in that famous sentence. Few, however, dispute that Armstrong’s small step was a major milestone. But what has come of mankind’s giant leap?
In 1975, author Norman Cousins famously told the U.S. Congress, “What was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that men set foot on the moon but that they set eye on the earth.” In December 1968, Apollo 8’s William Anders stirred the world’s imagination when, in orbit around the Moon, he took the famous photo now known as “Earthrise.” Seeing their first color view of our planet from space—its rich, vibrant hues a bold contrast against the Moon’s drab gray surface—many felt that the grandeur and beauty of “Earthrise” made our planet’s international conflicts seem so very petty.
And yet, Armstrong did not plant a United Nations flag on the Moon’s surface; it was the United States’ flag. The Moon landing itself was spurred by a Cold War challenge. On May 25, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy set a goal for his nation—a goal many thought impossible. Addressing the U.S. Congress, Kennedy proposed a bold attempt: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Scarcely more than eight years later, two Apollo 11 astronauts set foot on the Moon.
Five subsequent Apollo missions landed ten more men on the lunar surface, but in the nearly 47 years since Apollo 17’s lunar module lifted off from the Moon, no one has been back. To put this in perspective, only two other nations—the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union—have successfully “soft-landed” even a crewless mission on the Moon. Israel hoped to become the fourth earlier this year, but its Beresheet lander crashed when an engine failed during descent on April 11. China scored a milestone earlier this year when its Chang’e 4 craft on January 3 became the first known to have landed on the Moon’s “dark side.” Always facing away from Earth, it relies on a Moon-orbiting satellite to ferry information to People’s Liberation Army scientists in China. The U.S. does not plan to have a Moon-orbiting space station until the mid-2020s, when it expects to launch its Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway to host as many as four workers at a time for scientific and military missions.
In March of this year, U.S. President Donald Trump asked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to plan another crewed Moon landing by 2024, accelerating the previous schedule by four years. The plan raised controversy with legislators who have not yet given NASA the additional $1.6 billion that NASA head James Bridenstine says will be necessary in 2020 to stay on track to achieve President Trump’s goal—a rebuff that prompted mission administrator Mark Sirangelo to resign (“Moon mission leader leaves NASA after 45 days,” UPI, May 24, 2019). Is the plan too ambitious? No other nation has plans for such a landing before 2030, though Russia hopes to send astronauts into lunar orbit by 2025 before launching a lunar landing mission in the 2030s. China and Japan are also planning crewed landings before 2040. At least for a while, U.S. astronauts will continue to stand alone in having stood on the Moon.
Spaceflight may seem glamorous, but the Apollo 11 crew knew that their mission was very dangerous. As John Young—Apollo 10 pilot and Apollo 16 moon-walker—would later observe, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.” John Glenn, who piloted his Friendship 7 spacecraft to complete NASA’s first Earth-orbiting mission in February 1962, is said to have observed wryly, “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts—all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” In fact, NASA did implement extensive safety measures, but the danger was real. The Apollo 11 crew knew that three Apollo 1 astronauts had died in a catastrophic fire during tests when they could not reach the door hatch in their command module. Three other NASA astronauts had died in jet crashes while training. These brave men knew well the dangers they faced.
Certainly, the space program sped the pace of scientific and engineering innovation. The integrated circuit—the heart of today’s microcomputers, essential for many consumer electronic devices—was patented two years before President Kennedy’s call to action, but NASA’s needs drove engineers to new feats of miniaturization and efficiency, and the Apollo Guidance Computer was the first computer to use integrated circuits in its design. Today’s cellphones are vastly more powerful than Apollo 11’s computer, which did its job with just 2 kilobytes of read-write memory and 36 kilobytes of read-only memory to store the programs on which the astronauts relied for navigation and flight guidance, and even for takeoff and landing. This “state-of-the-art” computer did most of Apollo 11’s piloting, with the notable exception of Armstrong’s tense lunar landing.
However, we should be realistic about President Kennedy’s motivations to push for a crewed Moon landing. As Tomorrow’s World Editor in Chief Gerald Weston pointed out in the previous issue of this magazine, there is a sobering side to the space race, and we might even consider that…
…space exploration has made our world more dangerous. From the very beginning, military interests have been intertwined with exploring our surroundings. Sputnik was cute, but far from the whole story of what satellites were about. The public was enamored with moonwalks and micro-gravity, but behind it all were military experiments and missions.… Going to the Moon captured the attention of the public, but gaining the strategic high ground was the game being played between the Soviet Union and the United States (“What on Earth For?,” Tomorrow’s World, May–June 2019, p. 22).
Were it not for the U.S. desire to defeat the Soviet Union and win the Cold War, President Kennedy probably would not have issued his challenge at all.
Fifty years after Armstrong planted a U.S. flag on the Moon’s surface, nationalism still fuels the space race. In March of this year, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence proclaimed that “the first woman and the next man on the Moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil” (“Pence calls for human return to the moon by 2024,” SpaceNews.com, March 26, 2019).
In December 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order taking a preliminary step toward establishing a new “Space Force” branch of the U.S. military. Acknowledging the growing importance of outer space to Earth’s military forces, Commander John Hyten of the U.S. Strategic Command told a Senate committee in April 2019, “Space is fundamental to our economic vitality and the American way of life, including how we conduct warfare. Certainly our adversaries understand this, and are actively building and deploying weapons to threaten us in space. We must take these actions seriously.”
The Chang’e 4 landing in January raised concerns that, operating from the Moon’s “dark side,” China could potentially amass weapons and other technologies undetected, in violation of international treaties. Still, some are optimistic. “The Chinese are not going to start throwing Moon rocks at us” from a military outpost there, said Heritage Foundation scholar Dean Cheng (“China’s moon landing boosts Trump’s Space Force,” Washington Times, January 9, 2019). Others worry that China and Russia already can target U.S. intelligence and communications satellites. “Those assets are what we use for communication and reconnaissance and missile warning and position, timing, and navigation, a whole bunch of features that we use for warfighting,” said U.S. Defense Department undersecretary Michael Griffin (ibid.).
Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL) recently told an interviewer,
The 21st-century space race is on.… The Moon is going to be at the center of this. The Israelis just launched, the Indians are planning to launch to the Moon, the Chinese just did to the back side of the Moon. It’s always worth remembering that the Chinese do not have a civilian NASA exploration component. It’s pure military.… So it’s a domain that we need to be competitive in and maintain leadership in (“The 21st-Century Space Race Is On,” ForeignPolicy.com, April 10, 2019).
Today, we may almost take for granted the existence of space satellites and the benefits they bring. Whether orbital telescopes, communications satellites, or research platforms, mankind has filled the skies with technological wonders. How many are there? “As of 2018, over 1,800 active satellites are on orbit, which are owned and operated by over 50 countries and multinational organizations. Nine countries and one international organization can independently launch spacecraft: China, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and the European Space Agency” (“Challenges to Security in Space,” U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, February 2019, p. 7). A potential Moon-based threat from China or another nation could devastate U.S. security and commerce and leave the nation especially vulnerable to economic and military conquest.
But what if a threat comes not from Russia or China, but from further beyond in space? Dr. Stephen Hawking, the late University of Cambridge astrophysicist, was concerned about exactly this scenario. Consider this news report:
The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist—but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all that it can to avoid any contact…. He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on… He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky.” He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans” (“Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking,” The London Sunday Times, April 25, 2010).
This may evoke memories of the 1996 science fiction film Independence Day or the famous Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.” If humanity encountered aliens, many would expect them to be enemies as in the old television series V, not the gentle and wise benefactors of 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Have you considered how the world will react to Jesus Christ’s return? At first, not everyone will accept Him as their Savior. Some will be deceived and fear Him as an invader who has come to take away their freedom and power. Can you imagine the world’s combined military forces all being unleashed against Christ as He descends from heaven? Yes, the armies of rebellious nations will fight against the Messiah as He returns! Their minds will be fresh with the memory of terrifying heavenly signs that your Bible tells us will precede His return. Among those signs, we read that “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20). Did you see any of the “blood moons” that accompanied four lunar eclipses over the last two years? Though striking and awe-inspiring, they are a recurring astronomical phenomenon, and are only the slightest foretaste of the heavenly signs yet to come when God directly intervenes in the heavens.
And it is from those heavens that Jesus Christ will ultimately return. Your Bible describes the scene:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11–16).
Who are the “armies in heaven”? They will include the “firstfruits”—today’s faithful Christians raised to immortal Spirit life at the first resurrection! And what will be the result of that battle? We read, “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great’” (vv. 17–18).
Jesus Christ will win the final war at the end of this age, vanquishing the surviving masses of humanity that will band together to oppose Him. We read of their defeat:
And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh (vv. 19–21).
The victorious Prince of Peace will return to establish His government to rule all nations. He will give every human being who has ever lived an opportunity to hear and practice His true teachings—to accept Christ as Lord and Savior and receive the Holy Spirit! After this, another astounding phenomenon will occur when God’s very own New Jerusalem will come to Earth from heaven. The Apostle John describes the setting: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1). The New Jerusalem will shine with the glory of its Ruler. “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light” (v. 23). Can you imagine what that will be like?
Ironically, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s Moon landing is scheduled to see another U.S. astronaut go into space—but he will do so on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station! Army surgeon Andrew Morgan will spend nine months aboard the ISS; it will be his first trip into space, but he hopes it will not be his last. Morgan is optimistic about the goals set by President Trump and NASA. “Returning to the Moon’s surface in five years is an ambitious goal. I know it is one we can accomplish,” he said (“Army astronaut set to blast off on moon landing 50th anniversary,” Stars and Stripes, April 22, 2019).
Of the twelve human beings who have set foot on the Moon, four are still living. Apollo 11’s Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin is the oldest surviving moon-walker at age 89; Harrison Schmitt (age 84 as of July 3 this year) is the last survivor of Apollo 17, the last crewed Moon mission. The four living Moon-walkers may well have died before another sets foot on the Moon.
Though NASA has recently announced plans to return to the Moon in 2024, why have there been no other crewed Moon missions in the last 47 years? Some skeptics take this to be proof that the Apollo landings were a hoax. However, non-government entities have successfully bounced laser light off of the reflectors said to have been placed on the moon by the Apollo missions, so clearly someone placed them there and carefully positioned them! In 2008, Japan’s SELENE lunar probe returned photographic evidence of ground disturbed at the Apollo 15 landing site by the lunar module’s launch engine blast. Officials of the Chinese and Indian space programs—competitors that could benefit from debunking U.S. claims—also report evidence of soil disturbances on the Moon’s surface that confirm NASA’s earlier presence.
Still, some remain skeptical. Perhaps they will not trust the Moon landings until they can see for themselves. What about you? Would you like to see the Moon—and beyond—up close with your own eyes? The amazing truth is that today’s Christians are being prepared to inherit the Moon, and more! Anciently, God gave His people this promise: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:6). In the New Testament, we read, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (Revelation 21:7). What does God mean by “all things”? Notice how the Weymouth Version translates Hebrews 2:8, which in turn quotes Psalm 8: “‘Thou hast put everything in subjection under his feet.’ For this subjecting of the universe to man implies the leaving nothing not subject to him. But we do not as yet see the universe subject to him.” Amazingly, the Greek phrase ta panta—often translated in our English-language Bibles as “the all” or “all things”—reveals that when today’s Christians are born again as firstfruits into the Family of God, their inheritance will not exclude anything. The whole universe will be ours to explore, appreciate, and even beautify in ways we cannot yet imagine!
But not yet! Today’s Christians are heirs, waiting to receive a great inheritance. “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5). How do we prepare for that inheritance? Not by becoming astronomers or astronauts, though those may be wonderful pursuits. Rather, we are to prepare by learning to love God. Even the poor of this world are being prepared to inherit the universe if they are learning to love God. And how do we learn to love God? “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
No, God’s commandments are not burdensome! Christians who repent of their sins, accept proper baptism, and receive the Holy Spirit have its indwelling power to help them obey God and enjoy today a foretaste of what the rest of humanity will only experience in the future. If you feel that God may be calling you, I urge you to contact one of our Tomorrow’s World representatives at the regional office nearest you, listed on page 4 of this magazine. They will be happy to answer your questions or even meet with you.
Did walking on the Moon change the lives of the men who went there? No doubt, their journey was an awe-inspiring and humbling experience that gave them a new perspective on life. But it was a brief experience before they returned to Earth and all its many problems. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, however, God is now preparing you to take a “giant leap” that will encompass much more than Earth, and more than the Moon. He is preparing you to inherit the universe!