Summary: I switch things up a bit and do an extended illustration for this Sunday's sermon
9.8.19 What is Greater? Man on the Moon or God on the Earth?
Just recently America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11’s historic landing on the moon. Over 600 million people were estimated to have watched this historic event on July 20, 1969. When Neil Armstrong put made his first step on the moon he said, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Humanity was able to put a man on the moon! It was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of mankind, doing that one thing.
I’ve been thinking about this accomplishment over the past months. It made me think about what God said about humanity back in the book of Genesis, that “nothing would be impossible” for us. He certainly did create us to be powerful and do some amazing things. Even after the Fall and the Tower of Babel, think about how we have invented airplanes, trains, cars, cell phones and the internet and so many things that our grandparents and grandparents would have thought impossible.
America thought she was far superior to Russia, but when Russia was able to fly a satellite over planet earth in 1957, it put America on notice. According to record, they put a dog in the Sputnik which only lived for 5 hours and then died, just to see how long it would live. If they could fly a satellite with a dead dog over us, they could also fly nuclear missiles over us. We better step up our game! President Kennedy issued a challenge to America to be able to put a man on the moon within a decade. He said, “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
Apollo 11 didn’t just happen in a few months. It took years of discoveries and practice and experiments to be able to pull off such a feat. When I look at the trajectory of how they had to fly there and land there, it is just incredible. Somehow they had to play off of the gravity of the earth and the moon to sling shot back and forth. It wasn’t a straight line back and forth. They also had to figure out how to use rocket propulsion and different gas tanks that performed differently in the earth’s atmosphere and then in outer space. The mathematics of it all blows my mind.
Then I think about the mere size of the spacecraft. For eight days they had to ride in an area no bigger than a commercial air flight and live in a space no bigger than a normal sized closet. No thanks! It was dangerous too. Their vehicle - named the Eagle - was shockingly delicate - so light that if it had landed on earth it would have broken due to the difference in gravitational pull - but it was built to land on the moon! On the way down to land on the moon they encountered an error code - 1202 - that they had never seen before in all of their testing. Because of this malfunction in the computer Armstrong had to manually land the vehicle on the moon with all 600 million people watching on earth. It was a dangerous mission, no doubt about it. Five men - three Americans and two Russians - had died in previous simulations and flights.
The sheer size of the program and effort it took to do such a thing - over 375,000 people worked behind the scenes from engineers to mechanics to computer experts to janitors - for over 10 years. So again, imagine the pressure on them to try and pull this thing off while the whole world was watching! Bill Whittle, the narrator for the Apollo 11 podcast, said he remembered thousands of people gathered at Central Park in New York City, but when it came time for Neil Armstrong to actually get out of the Eagle, all of the thousands of people in Central Park were completely silent. When he finally took his first step, the entire park erupted with cheering like nothing he had ever heard. Everyone in America and around the world were cheering for them to do it. So when Neil Armstrong said, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” - he really felt like a representative of humanity on the moon. They even left a message from over 70 countries on the moon. The main message was written on metal which read, “here men from the planet earth first set foot upon the moon - we came in peace for all mankind.”
Landing on the moon wasn’t the end of the mission. They also had to return home. When they left, Buzz Aldrin accidentally bumped into the circuit breaker, and they would not have been able to engage the ascent engine when they returned. Thankfully they were able to use a felt tipped pen to wedge in between the missing link and they got back to Columbia without a hitch. It’s just amazing to think about all that could have gone wrong.