There was sad news last week, on August 25th, as our nation lost one of its space heroes. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died at the age of 82 from complications of a heart surgery that he had recently undergone. He was originally part of the Gemini program which followed the Mercury 7 astronauts – and eventually, Armstrong became part of the Apollo space program.
John Glenn, who preceded him as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, was the first American to orbit the earth on Feb. 20, 1962, the day after I turned 9 years old. He had followed Alan Shepherd, the first American in space, and eventually 6 of the original seven astronauts flew their capsules into the record books during the Mercury years. Deke Slayton, one of the seven, was diagnosed with a heart murmur during an exam and was grounded until 1975 when he was a member of the team that docked with a Soyuz Russian capsule. For those of you too young to remember, the Gemini program was a continuation of the Mercury program, using 2 capsules that could rendezvous in space, preparing the way for the third part of the program, the Apollo initiative.
As with most technological advancements, each stage built on the part before it, and President Kennedy, in a speech to the nation early in the 1960’s, committed the nation to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth before the decade was out. While Kennedy himself was assassinated in Dallas and would never see the fulfillment of the promise during his lifetime, Vice President Johnson, who was sworn in as President on the tarmac in Dallas the very afternoon of the Kennedy assassination, was a firm space advocate. Johnson made it his responsibility to make sure that NASA had the funding to ensure the success of the Kennedy promise.
On July 20, 1969, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins were successful in entering moon orbit – Armstrong and Aldrin transferred to the Lunar Module and landed on the surface of the moon – barely with enough fuel left to avoid a crash – while Collins piloted the command module orbiting the moon above. There had been fierce competition between Aldin and Armstrong for the honor of stepping onto the surface of the moon first. Aldrin was committed to have the honor for himself, but NASA had already decided that Armstrong was their choice.
On retrospect, that was probably a good decision. Armstrong was more laid back and throughout the years of his life, he never came to terms with his status as an American hero. He believed that a man should be judged on his complete body of work, not on one specific feat that someone had accomplished. On the other end of the spectrum, Aldrin was an astro physicist and very brilliant and while he tends to deny it, has a much bigger ego than Armstrong did. In fact, after their return to earth, Aldrin suffered from depression, 2 failed marriages and bouts of alcoholism. He has now been sober for thirty years and never has been able to fully adjust to the title of “second man on the moon” rather than a member of the “first lunar landing team.”
Armstrong, considered the more normal of the two men, lived a life of relative obscurity. He left the space program and taught school at the university level. He never sought the limelight and was fiercely private. So it really shouldn’t come as a shock that he shunned the spotlight and lived out his life as a regular guy. The end came on August 25th, and he was buried on August 31st. Coincidentally, this the the date of this year’s Blue Moon.
That term was first coined some years ago and is used to identify the second full moon in a particular month. Since the months follow, more or less, the lunar calendar, Blue Moons can only occur when there is a full moon in the first several days of a long month. The next one is scheduled sometime in 2015. Hence, the idea of “once in a blue moon” which signifies the relative infrequency of something happening.
Armstrong’s family asked that people look at the full moon and remember Neil as a tribute to him. And I got to thinking about the idea of the moon. We first run across the mention of the “greater light and the lesser light” in Genesis, during the creation story. But God didn’t name them the sun and the moon. Presumably this was because the Egyptians worshipped the sun and the moon and comparatively speaking, our God is so magnificent that compared to the gods of Egypt, the sun and the moon didn’t even warrant being named. Surely this would have annoyed the enemies of the Israelites.
The verse for this evening is from Genesis, when God created the “lights.” We are told in Genesis 1:16, “God made the two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” My encouragement this evening is to remind you that God created far more than the earth – He also created the heavens and everything in them. My prayer is that when you need encouragement and affirmation, you will turn to the God of creation. After all, we worked for thousands of years to get to the moon – God spoke it into existence and didn’t even bother to name it. The world will long remember Neil Armstrong, the one who symbolically got us there. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…