January 1 of the year 40

Happy Moonlanding Day!

When I was a youth, I read a science fiction book in which dates in the future were figured from the day that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, apparently because the date had such significance in the history of man.Now, nearly 40 years after I read that book, I have to say that the idea is a bit silly. Man setting foot on another world pales in comparison to the significance of Christ’s mission on the earth.

But, I have to admit to feeling (perhaps without any logical basis) that it is still significant or at least potentially very important. I know others don’t agree.

If my memory is correct, past LDS Church leaders have suggested that man would never walk on the moon or have a significant presence in space (don’t ask me for a citation, I don’t remember). I do remember church members suggesting that Man isn’t meant to get off our planet, or out of the Earth-Moon system, or (they said after the moon landing) out of our solar system. [I must admit that the distance to other stars and other solar systems is a very effective way of keeping Man in our solar system, given what we know of physics today].

I’m sure that many of the things that Mormons said or believed about space travel 40 years ago can be taken as simply the views of the time–perhaps reactions to the novelty of space travel. Today, 40 years into the era that started on July 20, 1969, I don’t think too many people in the world think that we are limited to this world.

But, even if we are, I’d like to think that today is a significant anniversary. Is there any chance, given Mormon thought and doctrine, that I’m right?

29 comments for “January 1 of the year 40

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith is the one I remember who could quote a string of scriptures demonstrating that the earth was made for man, and then make the leap to say that those scriptures “proved” that this earth was the ONLY place made for man, and that therefore the space program would amount to nothing. Well, the sun and the moon and the stars were also, in some senses, made for man, so wouldn’t the same logic “prove” that we should explore them all?

    I remember the afternoon my mother called us over to watch Neil Armstrong make that one-small-step-one-giant-leap. (Coincidently, given his death this week, Walter Cronkite was the newsman whose report we watched). I am very grateful to my mother for doing that, and for taking us a few months later to see and touch the actual Apollo 11 capsule, and a real moonrock, when they came to the city we were then living in. I was old enough to have retained very clear memories of those moments, although I was too young then to have recognized the significance and participated on my own without prodding from my mother. I may not remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot, but I remember where I was when man walked on the moon.

    For the 20th anniversary, I embroidered an elaborate banner depicting a Saturn V, some constellations, and all the verses to Leslie Fish’s poem “Hope Eyrie.” (Julie Ecklar’s terrific performance of “Hope Eyrie” is here. I loved that poem then, although now I realize how dismal she had to paint earth life in order to make the leap into space so magnificent:

    Worlds grow old and suns grow cold,
    And death we never can doubt.
    Time’s cold wind wailing down the past
    Reminds us that all flesh is grass,
    And history’s lamps blow out.

    But the Eagle has landed!
    Tell your children well.
    Time won’t drive us down to dust again.

    Well, thanks, Kent, for indulging me with this too-long comment. I’ve been remembering this anniversary today and wanting to talk to somebody about it.

  2. Yes, it’s a significant anniversary. It suggests that human ingenuity is grand enough to solve all sorts of mind-boggling problems and expand our knowledge of so many frontiers. How could this be anything but acting in a manner God wants us to act?

    I know it gets ripped all the time, but the fact that we have a *SPACE STATION* is a tremendously cool accomplishment. The fact that we are going to (one day) go to Mars is a tremendously cool accomplishment.

  3. I really regret I wasn’t alive to witness it. I grew up near a NASA facility (that did rocket propulsion work) with a visitor’s center, and I loved watching all of the old videos and looking at the moonrock exhibit they had.

  4. Ardis (1), I was a month shy of 8 years old, and I remember the coverage also (although, I couldn’t tell you who the anchor was–it could have been Cronkite).

    Overall, it was a marvelous moment. What a feeling of wonder!! Although my clearest memory is of Armstrong and Aldrin goofing off a little as they bounced around the surface. Boy did that make an almost 8-year-old want to go there!!

  5. Queuno (2): I hope that the Mars mission happens soon. 40 years ago, I assumed that we would make it to Mars in less than 1/2 the time its taken us so far.

    Now, I’m a little pessimistic about whether I’ll live to see it or not.

  6. I think part of JFS’s reasoning that man is limited to this planet may come from the old teaching that the spirit world is also tied to this earth, that spirts pre- and post-mortal are all around us, in something like other dimensions, or at least in matter so refined that it is invisible to coarse mortal eyes. Maybe that’s true, or maybe we haven’t heard that teaching for a very long time because church leaders have stopped speculating publicly on matters that have been revealed.

    I guess I’m just trying to JFS the benefit of the doubt.

    But I do feel a sense of pride at being part of a people who achieved such a technological miracle!

  7. My husband designed a part of the space station. We feel pleased about it to this day. And bummed they’ve set the de-orbit date.

    I think the Star Trek generation of LDS members feels entirely differently about space exploration, and the expectation that religion will go with us in space.

  8. Kent,

    Very interesting contrast, statements by church leaders saying we aren’t meant to go into space, or on the moon, or anything like that, and then the scientific community almost daring religious gods to stop them from doing exactly that.

    What do we really know about what man can or cannot do? It seems to me that God has not really put any actual limitations on what man is capable of doing. Currently, geneticists are probing the possibilities of cloning. We’ve flown in space. We consider options of a manned flight to Mars. Has God Himself ever said what man cannot do?

    Now, in the past, we sent men into space in competition with the Soviet Union. They sent up Sputnik and we fundamentally altered our entire society just so we could one-up the dastardly Soviets. Since the Soviet empire collapsed, we haven’t really had much of a reason to go into space. Too many problems to deal with here at home, or abroad. Slowly the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians and of course the Europeans will catch up to and surpass us in space. They seem to have a better goal and determination in mind.

  9. Ardis,

    I think part of JFS’s reasoning that man is limited to this planet may come from the old teaching that the spirit world is also tied to this earth, that spirts pre- and post-mortal are all around us, in something like other dimensions, or at least in matter so refined that it is invisible to coarse mortal eyes.

    What if you are an astronaut on the moon and you lose oxygen and die up there? :)

  10. Dan #9: Accidents happen. They happen in space, they happen here. It doesn’t mean we are unable to live in space. We need to work to reduce catastrophic accidents wherever they happen.

  11. I am in awe of the dedication and hard work that our country put forth to get us into space, and to the moon. I wish that I had lived then to witness the moon landing firsthand (well, as firsthand as watching Walter Cronkite is.) Yet I also am glad that I am alive now, to hopefully see all new exploration. (I hope, I hope, I hope.) I look forward to someday visiting space, even farther than Virgin Galactic plans.

  12. Dan, although you included a smily, I’ll take you seriously for a moment and give the same answer that we traditionally give in cases where people’s bodies are lost at sea or destroyed by fire or otherwise not recoverable: At the time of resurrection, why would a God who could create the heavens and the earth in the first place be at a loss to reassemble the body and restore life, no matter where it was left at the time of death?

    It’s realities like that, never dreamed of by men of an earlier generation, that help me distinguish between gospel truth and human speculation.

  13. I agree that there is not much doctrinal basis to say humans should not do much by way of space exploration. Still, I think that our Star Trek generation has way too much unfounded optimism about what can happen relatively soon in the way of space travel (as well as artificial intelligence).

    Let’s simply land on the moon a few more times people, and then we can start talking more about space explorations. Until then — pipe dreams.

  14. Kent re: Comment #5

    You might find it interesting to note that the USA is at a serious crossroads in determining our future in manned space exploration. That crossroads, many view, will come to a head August 5th, when the Augustine Commission reports its findings/recommendations to the newly-confirmed NASA administrator. The Augustine Commission doesn’t decide all, but it has the power to tip the scales in the direction for change.

    I am intimately familiar with this industry, as I work as a propulsion engineer in Washington DC (the project I am currently working on is the development of a medium-lift launch vehicle that has already won contracts with NASA to haul cargo to the International Space Station. Internet sleuths, ready set go!).

    There are some serious and politically influential proponents of different exploration architectures that challenge Constellation (Constellation = the new Apollo that NASA is touting) that are making a concerted, seemingly final push for change. The suggested changes range from drastic modifications to the vehicles NASA is currently designing to replace the shuttle (the Ares 1 and 5 vehicles), to the destination (forget the Moon and go straight to Mars, or maybe some asteroids, for example).

    There are many engineers and scientists (who actually know what they are talking about) who believe that going back to the moon is a strategic mistake, and will get us stuck there for the next 40+ years.

    No one knows what the Augustine Commission is going to suggest (no leaks whatsoever have reached me), but we know that the Obama administration is taking a serious look at the options. If we stay the course and return to the moon, I believe that you are right – Mars will be pushed off at least 50 years.

    I hope this doesn’t end up being the case. For what it’s worth, I’m praying that Augustine suggests NASA ceases design efforts on Ares 1, man-rate a Delta IV to carry astronauts (allowing NASA to focus on development of the Ares 5), make our immediate destination Mars, and replace the moon as a waypoint to Mars with a cheap, highly modular space station as a launching point (we’ve learned how to build a space station – now let’s use that knowledge!). The latter suggestion was made by the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, explained here. This way we’ll be garnering international support (we should be working with other nations, not striking out on our own. This isn’t the same world as it was in the 60’s. We’re global, now, baby), as well as rally popular support (the moon is dead. Plus, we’ve been there and done that. Mars is, like, cool – it has rovers and stuff… not to mention water and hydrocarbon fuel, and oh, hey- maybe even life).

    My point, in a nutshell: things could seriously change here on August 5th. But they might not. If they don’t, your fears are most likely correct – you nor I will live to see man set foot on Mars.

    Write your senators…

  15. Ardis,

    The reason I included the smiley face is because I already believe as you do that they’ll be fine no matter where they die in this universe. James Doohan, for one, will be, I think, pretty tough to piece back together, what with some of his ashes here on earth, some up in space… :)

    I don’t think poorly of earlier generations for not having the vision to see the possibilities. When all previous human existence remained on earth, and the only events that occurred with humans going upwards were divine experiences, it’s kinda hard to imagine humans going up into space of their own strength and knowledge.

    It does tell me that prophets don’t speak absolute truth at any and all times. Rather, they say what they know and what God reveals to them at the time.

  16. When I was sworn in as an Army officer, I was interested to note that my commission referenced not only the normal dating, but the number of years since the founding of the nation. The long format dating does give the personal event a place in a larger history and adds grandeur to the text.

    Referencing dates to the moon landing makes sense if you want a zero that is known to the second and has sufficient significance that everyone will recognize it, but we seem to do fine with the current calendar. Absolute time on that scale is really only important in short bursts like in physics experiments where an arbitrary t0 is set up as a reference for the problem or in processes like cooking where the moment you put the cake in the oven affects when you must take it out.

    I think the date-from-moon-landing concept was used in the book to reflect cultural sensitivity and the “advance” of mankind from “superstition” to science, but the moon landing event is way too American to find easy universal acceptance even if LDS reactionaries like us and other Christians would rather stick with dating to the Savior’s time on the earth. Even if a resurgent caliphate attempted to impose a new calendar with a sword, the transition would be so painful the project might well collapse under the weight of converting dates from one format to another.

    The French tried creating a new calendar in the revolutionary period, but it did not work too well. They set it up with 12 months of 30 days each divided into three 10-day metric weeks with five sans culottes days at the end of the year (month-less, not pant-less). People hated it. The weeks were too long and the names of the months were to local – they referenced the seasons in France (Thermidor – the month of heat, Humidor – the month of humidity) which made no sense in their colonies. The biggest drawback was that they were also thrown out of whack with their neighbors who stuck with the traditional calendar.

    Of course switching from Julian to Gregorian calendars was something that happened in that same era with more success, but at least that served a useful function of keeping Easter in the spring!

    New calendars don’t make much sense until we actually have human populations on another planet and must recon our time in a fashion relevant to daily life. Colonists on the moon would have little need for such. They share our year and would live in such close proximity to earth that any conversion would have no utility. Humans on Mars would start having a reason to date things based on their own 24.5 hour day and ~24 month year. What that will do to the unity of history will be interesting.

  17. But surely we can acknowledge that the entire moon landing occurred on a sound stage in suburban Houston? :):)

  18. Wait? So, in the book, they measure time from the moon landing but they still use a solar and not a lunar calendar. Science fiction indeed!

  19. I was on my mission in Japan. We listened on the radio, with faint English in the background under a louder Japanese translation.

    My first two years in the Air Force, I worked at the Space Defense Center inside Cheyenne Mountain, above Colorado Springs, Colorado, writing software for tracking satellites. One of our programs ran a comparison of the orbits of manned space launches against the orbits of all other objects (satellites and debris) in orbit, to predict and avoid collisions.

    The vulnerability of the Space Shuttle’s tiles and problems with being mounted on the side of the external tank, rather than atop it, were known from the beginning, but it was supposed to be a “cheaper” way to do a first stage rocket. The Shuttle Orbiter was really designed to ride to about 50 miles altitude on the back of a big aircraft. It is clear now that it is not necessary to stick people into the same rocket that carries your large cargoes, especially with advances in computers and guidance systems. And it is clear that the Shuttle was a deliberately designed dead end, a vehicle that could not serve as an intermediate step to returning to the moon or flying to Mars.

    The need to have the power to travel anywhere in the space around the earth, out to the moon and beyond, was clarified when we witnessed Shoemaker-Levy 9 striking Jupiter, making mushroom clouds larger than the earth. If any of those pieces had hit the earth, humanity and nature would have been hard up. We must have the capacity to detect and deflect asteroids and comets up and constantly running, because we will have only short windows in which to respond. Having spacecraft that can take people and equipment to Mars is a good definition of the minimum capability needed to defend the earth. Anyone who claims to care for the environment should recognize that there is nothing worse for current life than getting hit by a big space rock. Nothing you do that is confined to the earth’s surface, seas and atmosphere can protect life from sudden demolition by an asteroid.

    I frankly do not recall ever hearing JF Smith or any other GA saying that space travel was impossible. It is hard to even imagine apostles like Talmage, Widtsoe, and Merrill, all scientists, making such a claiim. I do recall that one theory that some Mormons seem to have adopted about the Fall is that it involved the earth being created in orbit around Kolob, usually depicted as being at the center of the galaxy, and then being moved suddenly to its current nighborhood halfway out to the rim of the galaxy. Since this is a distance of 5,000 light years or so, the hypothesis ends up explaining one thing by raising ten times as many questions. Above all, there is surely nothing in the scriptures that suggests a planet-size wormhole to provide instantaneous transport of a whole planet.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith allegedly once speculated about people living on the moon as natives. This was actually a popular idea in his time. I find it more interesting that he remarked that the earth was made out of other “globes” or “worlds” (depending on the source). While JF Smith suggested this allows us to attribute dinosaurs to some prior planet, and thus avoid an old earth and allegedly evolution, it seems to me it makes no sense to claim that the earth is young, but that there were other earths that supported life for thousands of years before that. Is the creation of the other worlds left out of Genesis on purpose? On the other hand, modern astronomers a few years ago did a computer simulation of the condensation of the solar system out of the original dust particles, and they concluded that there were at first maybe a hundred smaller planets, which collided, ten or so of them sticking together to form the earth. The last collision was 4.3 billion years ago, when a planet the size of Mars hit the early earth, vaporizing rock that became earth’s unusually large moon. So Joseph’s statement anticipated by 150 years the views of modern scientists about the creation of the earth.

    Joseph’s vision in Section 76 and the visions of Moses and Enoch showed an infinite number of inhabited worlds. Somebody is traveling between them.

    Someone did a count and found that Mormons appear in science fiction stories more often than any other religious group. Given the breadth of our vision, a little speculative fiction does not phase us.

  20. Kent,

    Great to see your post! Conjured up lots of memories. Apollo 11 is literally the earliest memory of my life. I spent the next nearly 20 years trying to figure out how to be an astronaut. Even after I realized that the best route is through the military, and simultaneously realized that I wasn’t really interested in the military, I entered BYU as an astro-physics major, thinking that maybe having a Ph.D. in Astro-physics would qualify me.

    Alas, life had different things in store for me. :)

    On another, related note — in addition to JFS’s “perspective”, we also have reports (although disputed) the both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that there were inhabitants of the moon (and the sun!). Far from undermining either my faith or my enthusiasm for the incredible accomplishments of modern technology and science (the moonwalk being one of the greatest), the stories of these prophets reinforces in me the logic and need of a ‘third way’. Neither atheism nor literalism and prophetic infallibility are concepts that will help us achieve our greatest potential.

  21. Anyone who claims to care for the environment should recognize that there is nothing worse for current life than getting hit by a big space rock

    Yeah, we get a movie or two about every year reminding us of this unrealistic phenomenon. :)

  22. Dan (21), I assume you meant that the films were unrealistic. The phenomenon has happened from time to time in the earth’s recent history, so its not exactly “unrealistic.”

  23. Kent,

    I meant that the phenomenon is unrealistic. And I do mean that. I don’t think God will allow a meteor to hit earth while His children are housed here to go through the test of life He has put us here for. I don’t think he will allow for a total destruction meteor or asteroid to annihilate life on earth until his work is complete. So yes, the phenomenon is unrealistic.

  24. Dan #23: Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?

    I believe it is necessary for us to provide for our own safety to the best of our abilities, while calling upon God for his blessings.

  25. buraianto,

    How exactly would we provide for ourselves against a cataclysmic meteor? Follow the fictional accounts in our movies and hope for the best? A cataclysmic meteor is a game changer, is beyond our abilities to control, a highly unlikely event, unless God allows it to hit us, as part of the “End of Days” scenario. Life here on earth is quite fragile. Scientists speak all the time at how precarious it is. One degree off course in our spin around the sun, and we’d lose life here on earth. There is no power that a human being has that could stop something like that from occurring. Thus God retains such powers, and I believe that until his work is complete here, he will not allow such events to occur on this planet.

  26. Happy Moonlanding Day!
    But I think men in deep space will never be. The robot will make the trip, and we will be the better for it because it can do the job better, and more often.

  27. Dan #25: Well, I am certainly no expert on meteors. I do know that the best time to come up with plans for dealing with catastrophic meteors is before one is detected. (And no, we don’t need to follow one of the fictional accounts in our movies. I watched one of them, and the less like real life that movie remains, the better. That movie was terrible.)

    I also don’t accept the idea that dealing with a cataclysmic meteor is beyond our abilities to control, except with the qualifier “currently”. I think with some effort, ingenuity and improved technology in the future we will be able to deal with meteors, to a certain degree of cataclysm. And to plan for those that are just too large I feel strongly that we need to establish ourselves additionally on a world beyond the Earth.

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