We are still in the time of year when we annually celebrate space accomplishments by the early American astronauts. As you already know, the seven Mercury astronauts were the first astronauts chosen for the U.S. space program after extensive physical, emotional and psychological tests. It was on this date, in 1963, that L. Gordon Cooper, better known as Gordo, was the last Mercury astronaut to be launched into space. He ended up making 22 orbits around the earth during a flight that lasted about 34 hours – the longest time in space for any American to date. Each of his predecessors had chosen the names for their spacecraft; and each had added the number 7, signifying the size of their group, to the end of the name of each capsule.
Gordo chose “Faith 7” as the moniker for his craft and I admit that every time I see the word “faith”, I immediately connect it with God and religion and all things good. One of my dear friends used to say that faith is an active verb – that we should pray for more faith and that faith is a gift from God. As humans, we can’t increase our own faith – we need God to instill more faith in us. And let’s face it – how many times have your heard about “brothers and sisters in the faith?”
But faith in God wasn’t what Gordo was talking about. He didn’t have faith in God – he had faith in the Atlas rocket and the Mercury capsule that would launch him into space. How wrong! Yes, he had a successful flight, but it wasn’t without its issues. During the flight, he lost power but was able to communicate with earth as his radio was connected directly to a battery. Without that, he may not have been able to return to earth. As it was, he had to manually calculate the angle of reentry and how he needed to fly the spacecraft to safely return to our world. In fact, he landed less than four miles from the USS Kearsarge, the ship that picked him up. He actually was hoisted onto the ship while still inside his capsule – finally blowing the hatch on the deck of the ship.
There had been all kinds of fears about losing the capsule. NASA wasn’t thrilled at all about the prospect of newspapers picking up any tragedy under the banner, “NASA loses Faith!” But it’s a shame that Cooper didn’t have more faith in God. In Gordo’s later years, he was involved in all sorts of “deals” – building racing boats, spinning yarns of his days in space, trying to raise money for all sorts of odd causes and having several companies go bankrupt in the process. Gordon never took the blame for these failures – he always assigned the blame to his partners or people who lacked “faith” in him.
Fellow astronauts even went so far, in Gordo’s later years, to refer to him as mentally unstable and it was revealed that even back in his days flying for the Mercury and Gemini programs, he was difficult to deal with – it was even thought that he should be replaced on several scheduled flights due to chronic complaints about pay and other issues. Cooper finally died in 2004 – and it is safe to say that he didn’t do as well in his later years as he did when he flew into space the first time as a young astronaut.
Our verse for tonight highlights thoughts on faith. We are told by Paul, in his first letter to young Timothy, in 1 Timothy 3:13, “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” Yes, God loves to give us assurance in our faith. That is my encouragement this evening. My prayer is that we will finish well and not reduce our faith, but that God will increase it during our later years. Because, in this way, we can continue to become more like Jesus as we age and no matter how successful we were in our younger years, the best is yet to come. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…