A priest who is an enthusiast about space hopes to take his interest to greater heights—as a chaplain with the international space station.

Ken Clapham, an Anglican vicar from Over Kellet, near Carnforth, northern England, has good links to NASA.

"Amazingly, they said no-one had ever suggested a chaplain before," he told ENI.

Clapham sees the role as a "mission opportunity," although he stresses that he would minister to crew members of all faiths aboard the station.

He would like to be accepted under NASA's space participation program for civilians. This program has been revived after having been suspended for years, and a woman teacher has already been chosen to take part, Clapham explained.

At 54, Clapham is unworried about the physical demands of living in space. "They took John Glenn [a pioneer astronaut] back into space at 77, so perhaps I'm even too young," he said.

Another 6f Clapham's role models is 60-year-old Methodist minister George Brigham, who in August performed a wedding blessing standing on the top wing of a biplane, 300 meters over western England.

The wedding couple, Caroline Hackwood and Justin Bunn, were facing him on the wings of two other biplanes during the ceremony arranged by the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers air display troupe.

Meanwhile, Clapham nourishes his space dream by taking flying lessons and by talking about space at up to 200 meetings a year in Britain and abroad.

Often he is accompanied by a piece of moon rock that is lent to him from time to time by NASA. After each use, it has to be returned to a secure bank vault.

"Children are fascinated by the rock, and grownups perhaps even more so," said Clapham. The rock allows him to link God and science.

One day he hopes to read Psalm 121 aboard the international space station. It says in verse 2: "My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth."

Clapham, who said he is happy to travel anywhere to talk about space, became interested in the subject in 1987 when one of the NASA astronauts, the late Colonel James Irwin, visited his parish to talk to schoolchildren.

Maintaining links with the astronauts over the years, Clapham has been impressed by how many are Christians. He said that in the past 12 months 120 out of 180 personnel in the U.S. space program have attended Bible study.

If Clapham achieves his ambition of becoming a space chaplain, life will come close to imitating art.

The 1950s and 1960s cult comic strip hero Dan Dare—whom the BBC is to re-launch in a $20 million animated TV series—was almost a chaplain instead of a space pilot.

Dan Dare, a square-jawed hero forever fighting evil, particularly in the form of the Mekon from Venus, was the chief attraction of the Eagle comic.

The Eagle, which became successful in many countries, was the creation of a British clergyman, Marcus Morris, who wanted a publication that would offer children both visuals and morality of the highest order.

The original figure, according to Morris, was "an exemplary character" called Lex Christian. He began life as a tough, fighting parson in the slums of the East End of London, then became airborne as a flying padre, the Parson of the Fighting Seventh.

One fully worked artboard produced in advance of the launch of the Eagle even portrayed Dan Dare wearing a clerical collar as the chaplain of an interplanetary space fleet, before he took on his final form as a "pilot of the future."

Related Elsewhere

Other articles on Clapham include:
Vicar lured by heavens aboveChurch Times (Aug. 3, 2001)

Vicar asks Nasa for space station chaplain job — Ananova (Aug. 12, 2001)

The biplane wedding also garnered some media attention in Britain. Ananova has photos.

The Over Kellet site has more information on Clapham's church.

There are several sites about the Dan Dare comic and television show. DanDare.com seems to be the official—and fanciest—of them.