Late this afternoon, I happened to walk past the TV as they were announcing the death of former astronaut and Senator John Glenn, the last survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. For those of you who weren’t around back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the country was in a time of unrest – the Soviets had launched Sputnik, a small satellite, that orbited the earth and were undeniably leading the “space race.”
In response, Werner von Braun and a host of other rocket scientists developed a program to put Americans in space and after rigorous testing, 7 men were chosen to represent America in the race to the moon against the Russians. John Glenn became the third man to fly – and the first American to orbit the earth after sub-orbital flights by Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom. In fact, he was launched on February 20, 1962 – one day after my 9th birthday. I vividly remember Dad waking me and the two of us watched with anticipation as Glenn prepared for his flight of three orbits around the earth.
His flight was plagued with issues – including “fireflies,” pieces of the heat shield that seemed to be loose. And there was serious concern about Glenn’s ability to return to earth without his capsule burning up. It all turned out okay and Glenn went on to continue as an astronaut for several more years – before eventually running for and winning a seat in the U.S. Senate from the state of Ohio where he served for 4 consecutive terms. In 1984, Glenn ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
And in 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space when he returned to orbit the earth aboard the shuttle Discovery. He was, and is, a true American legend – and that doesn’t even include his serving in two wars as a fighter pilot! The country owes Glenn a debt of gratitude for his bravery and the risks that he took to advance the space program and America’s standing in the world. He and his wife, Annie, were married for 70 years and it is difficult to imagine the lunar missions or the shuttle flights without the efforts and contribution of Glenn and the other 6 Mercury astronauts.
So why did they do what they did? The risks of space were incredible and in the beginning, the capsules were not even going to include a window for the astronauts to see the sun, moon and stars. Because space was there – and Glenn believed that we should be explorers. He also believed in God – having remarked that it was impossible for him not to believe in God, having witnessed not only earth, but the beauty of space – another part of God’s creation.
Our verse for the evening is from the book of Genesis. It highlights God’s creation of the universe. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us in Gen. 1:14-19, “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.”
My encouragement this evening is that God expects us and wants us to explore – everything from earth to space to our own journey with Him. My prayer is that you will live life to the fullest and not be afraid to explore and enjoy God’s majestic creation. Have a great day in the Lord, and Godspeed, John Glenn, as you enter the presence of God in heaven…