Bless Thou the Astronauts

How the church shaped early lunar exploration. /

In December 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to orbit the moon and see the Earth “rise” over the lunar surface. To celebrate, the three Apollo 8 astronauts delivered a simple Christmas Eve message for everyone back home, taking turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 from the King James Bible: “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 called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman concluded the broadcast with a brief farewell: “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.”

From a distance or nearly 240,000 miles, the astronauts reached an estimated one billion TV viewers—the biggest audience ever at the time.

I felt thrilled to see astronauts praising God on TV. My passion to become an astronomer grew even stronger that summer. And my parents were glad to see good news about America after years of coverage of the bloody Vietnam War and violent student protests. Everybody seemed completely over the moon.

Except for Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the activist atheist whose lawsuit before the US Supreme Court had ended the widespread practice of mandatory Bible reading in public schools. After hearing taxpayer-supported astronauts reciting the Bible from space, she sued the US government for violating the First Amendment. The case was dismissed, but from now on, most Christian astronauts ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 52 / July 7, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 52: Dreams, animal GPS, and astronaut churches. /

  2. What Dreams Are Really Made Of

    Why we’ve always tried to find transcendent meaning in an ordinary, everynight event. /

  3. What Color Is North?

    How birds and other animals travel so far so accurately. /

  4. A Dream Song (II)

    “The stars are spinning their threads.” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 52: Links to amazing stuff.

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