Spiritually Speaking: Lost in Space?

By Rev. Connie Seifert

“Space, the final frontier where no one has gone before…”

That was the first line of each Star Trek episode, most of which I have seen enough times to know the dialogue by heart. I loved the concept of a world in the future where human beings were explorers bent on making peace wherever they went. Of course, the creatures they met would almost always jeopardize that commitment to peace in some way. But it was reassuring to imagine humanity had changed enough at heart to venture into this final frontier without ulterior motives, dedicated to serving good and thwarting evil at every turn.

It is Monday, August 3rd as I write this. The space shuttle Discovery will be rolled out to the launch pad at one minute after midnight tonight (which technically speaking makes it tomorrow) in preparation for lift off on August 7th. The team (whose picture you can see at http://www.nasa.gov/home/index.html) is headed to the International Space Station. I am amazed at the international cooperation and teamwork it has taken to build it.Oh, I know. It is far from the idealism of those Star Trek explorers but read a bit about what is happening there, look at the planet earth from outer space and there is plenty to admire. It is an awesome venture in spite of all the problems and setbacks. It has been a long and complex journey for humanity as our venture into space becomes reality instead of science fiction.

Can you name the three astronauts who landed on the moon in 1969? Do you remember who was President when it happened? What was the name of the spaceship? Where were you when the spaceship actually landed and a real, live human being walked on the moon? Answers at the end of the column, except for where you were. You will have to remember that on your own. I was in my first year of college at SUNY Potsdam. I don’t know of anyone alive who was not awed by the sight of a man on the moon as the whole world watched it happen live on television.

Our second great goal is to build on America’s pioneer spirit…and that’s to develop that frontier. A sparkling economy spurs initiatives, sunrise industries and makes older ones more competitive.

Nowhere is this more important than our next frontier: space. Nowhere do we so effectively demonstrate our technological leadership and ability to make life better on Earth. The Space Age is barely a quarter of a century old. But already we’ve pushed civilization forward with our advances in science and technology. Opportunities and  jobs will multiply as we cross new thresholds of knowledge and reach deeper into the unknown.

President Ronald Reagan, State of the Union Address, January 25, 1984

Can you guess the first year that the idea of a space station was suggested? It was long before Pres. Reagan’s speech. If you guessed 1869 in a short story called “Brick Moon” by Edward Everett Hale, then you are right. The Russians sent the first actual space station, Salyut 1 into the infinity we call outer space in 1971. They were also the first ones to send a human being into orbit in 1961. Do you remember his name?

Skylab, the first United States space station was launched in 1973. Three crews served aboard it before it was abandoned in 1974.

It was the Russians who were determined to have a long-term facility. They launched the first module of Mir in 1986. It took ten years to build and was used until 2001 when it, too, was abandoned.

The current international space station would not exist today without the help of the Russians. President Clinton was faced with an ambitious building project in process which was way over budget as well as way behind schedule. The Russians were ready to launch Mir-2. They offered instead to collaborate with the US, its European allies, Japan and Canada. It was 1993. It would take seven more years before the space station was ready for human inhabitants: one US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts. They stayed for 4 1/2 months. Teams of two or three have rotated ever since.

As of November 2008, 167 people had visited the Space Station. Do you know how many missions we have flown to the space station? The lift off on August 7th will be our 128th. There are only six more scheduled before we retire our fleet of space shuttles.

I have spent two days visiting online sites which tell about this incredible achievement for humankind. I encourage you to do the same. You can watch actual footage of the Endeavour as it flies around the space station with our planet Earth in the background.

There are many other amazing interactive features. Space may remain the final frontier for those of us living on this planet. But when we die, we will encounter our ultimate final frontier – life after death. Unlike outer space where we are venturing for the first time, whatever plane of existence is encountered after death, it has been encountered by more souls than we can count.

There are no credible online sites to visit, no interactive features to amaze and amuse us, only the faith we share in a Creator God who loves us, the certainty that that love leads us into an eternity from which we will not want to return, even if we could.

I remember rainy days spent sitting on the polished wood floor of a sweaty smelling gymnasium watching episodes of Flash Gordon in Elementary School. In Jr. High, I alternated between westerns and Star Trek. I was a fan from Day One and followed Star Trek through all its sequels (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager), though I could never warm up to the one series which was supposed to be a prequel (Enterprise). As science fiction becomes real science right before our very eyes in this international space station and all the research being done there, it is a good idea to thank God for the technology and international goodwill which is making it happen. Sixteen nations working together created a place where scientific research will continue “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” The awe and amazement I feel when I see what our planet looks like from outer space reinforces the awe and amazement I feel whenever I think of God – the One who Created it all – then created us to explore and discover it all – until we draw our last breath and face that final frontier where everyone will eventually go – boldly or otherwise.

Answers: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins; President John F. Kennedy; Apollo 11; Yuri Gagarin.