Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
July 7, 2011
Atlantis and the call of God
Imagine the scene: you’re strapped into Atlantis, America’s last space shuttle, for her final voyage into outer space. You are one of only four astronauts on board—you and your colleagues will be required to do the work of seven. And you don’t want to think about the reason why.
If Atlantis makes her launch tomorrow (weather could force a delay), she will be the first shuttle to enter space with no shuttle as a back-up. After Columbia exploded eight years ago, NASA determined that the shuttle was injured during liftoff when debris struck one of its wings. Subsequent flights have included a spacewalk to inspect the vehicle before reentering orbit. If damage were discovered, the astronauts would proceed to the Space Station and wait for another shuttle to bring them home.
NASA’s other orbiters have now been retired, however. The back-up plan is for Russian Soyuz capsules to bring them home. These vehicles can hold only three people at a time, and can fly with two. The capsules would launch with an empty seat to be occupied by a shuttle astronaut on the return flight. But the remaining astronauts would have to wait in the Space Station for another Soyuz flight. Seven additional astronauts would exceed the Station’s resources, but it could assimilate four men. As a result, Atlantis will head into space with four Americans. We all hope she returns the same way.
President John F. Kennedy launched our space program with an address he delivered in Rice University’s football stadium on September 12, 1962. He concluded: “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”
Mr. Kennedy was right—the courage it takes to serve as one of our nation’s astronauts is truly remarkable. Across the history of the program, five ships will have carried 777 passengers into space, traveling collectively half a billion miles. They set the Hubble Space telescope into place and serviced it regularly. But 14 lost their lives when Challenger and Columbia launched but never returned home.
A great cause always exacts a great cost. When Jesus called women and men into the greatest cause in human history, he made its cost clear: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). With this promise: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (v. 24).
My friend and mentor John Haggai, founder of the global missionary enterprise which bears his name, has often challenged us to “attempt something so great that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it.” What great cause are you serving this morning?