When I consider the tremendous accomplishment of putting a man on the moon in less than one decade, I can't identify with the kind of dedication, drive, commitment, and perseverance that it took. What Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins did was amazing in and of itself, yet when you consider the thousands of men and women who worked the long hours and families that sacrificed to make it happen, it is all the more amazing. For the most part, they were not motivated by either money or hope of fame. While they were dutiful Americans, duty only takes you so far. They did it because of a passion for the object of their mission: to go to the moon.
In Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, which I just finished reading, Craig Nelson tells the story well. He captures the intensity of that mission, the world-wide renown and respect for the United States after Apollo 11, and then the irony of a nation that moved on and lost its passion for space after the "Giant Leap." There is a generation that has forgotten and a younger one one that views it as a footnote in history not worth dwelling on — and even, perhaps, a waste. A surprising minority even believe the visit to the moon was faked.
There are lessons to be drawn for the church. Our one holy passion, as John Piper likes to say, is Jesus Christ. We follow not for duty but because we believe in the God-man. We persevere because of a God-enabled faith, because it is a mission that is worth every sacrifice. It is not a facile project, not always enjoyable (though there are moments of elation), nor does it necessarily pay off, financially or otherwise. Sacrifice and suffering is required, and as a result of following Christ, your life could become a hardship. Ask the Apollo 11 astronauts about the result of their project. They were hounded by reporters and tabloids, at one moment admired and at another the subject of unfounded and scandalous stories. Neil Armstrong was notoriously reclusive. Buzz Aldrin fell into alcoholism and an extended depression. Both divorced. But they never gave up on space and never regretted their mission.
A quote from the father of space-flight, Robert Goddard, is included as a coda to the book. Goddard said “When old dreams die, new ones come to take their place. God pity a one-dream man.” That’s not exactly right, of course, though I understand his meaning. The dream of Christianity, a fairy-tale like story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, is one that endures. That it is under attack is evident. That some are demoralized is apparent. But just as Buzz Aldrin still believes that space is our destiny, still lights up with talk of rendezvous, so we believe that a new heaven and new earth is coming, that, to recall a fond allegory, “Aslan is on the move.”
I was ten when Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind.” Many dreams have died since then. And yet forty-six years later, the dream of space is still alive for many, from the hipster-nerds of SpaceX to the heady dream-labs of Ames and JPL, from the space cowboys buried in the bureaucracy of NASA to the cubicles and computer monitors of of old-line aerospace firm Boeing, from old men like Buzz Aldrin and Gene Kranz to children who lay in sleeping bags in backyards watching stars and dreaming of Mars. Some of us still dream. And some of us still hold out hope of a heaven come down, of a time when the God of dark matter, of galaxies, of comets, and the smallest, least significant follower, will give us the object of our dream — Himself. Even a lazy dreamer like me takes flight in that mission. That rendezvous is assured.