15 years ago today.
March 08, 2001. The Atlantic coast of Florida.
I stood shivering in the cool darkness of the predawn morning. The alarm clock had rudely roused me from a brief sleep at 2:00 a.m. Then we boarded a bus for the thirty minute ride from Cocoa Beach to Cape Canaveral. We waited restlessly with a crowd of thousands for the famous countdown clock to resume.
My cousin was a rocket scientist. Actually, Robert joined NASA in the 1960s. He offered me two VIP passes for a space shuttle launch. So on March 6, my old college roommate and I drove south to Florida.
NASA officially designated the mission STS-102. The orbiter for the 102nd flight of the space shuttle was named Discovery. The shuttle would transport parts and crew to the international space station.
We stayed at the motel where the original seven Mercury astronauts lived. At 3:00 a.m. on the morning of the launch, we boarded a bus at the Cocoa Beach Holiday Inn. After a briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, we rode out to the launch site.
The scene took my breath away. Discovery stood spotlighted in the darkness on pad 39B. The shuttle streamed pale plumes of vapor into the cool night. Shortly after we arrived, the international space station orbited across the heavens like a shooting star.
The natural settings complemented the high tech scene. A bull alligator bellowed in the swamps. A full moon set slowly in the west. Minutes before the launch, a glorious sunrise painted the eastern sky.
The digital clock slowly counted down to zero. Sight preceded sound. The white hot flames of the main engine and two boosters exploded into life. A pressure wave traced its way across the lagoon. Moments later the deep thunder swept over us in a tidal wave of noise.
The shuttle appeared to move reluctantly into the sky, bound by gravity’s chains; but the spacecraft had already exceeded 100 miles per hour when it cleared the gantry. The long train of smoke trailing the shuttle cast a sharp shadow across the brightening dawn.
Attending the launch was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The union of natural beauty and human technology joined together in an unexpected spiritual experience. The Psalmist declared:
Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all your shining stars. Praise, him you highest heavens!” (Psalm 148: 1-4)
Some see a conflict between religion and science. However, Thomas Aquinas taught that reason is the first floor of a two-story structure. The second floor consists of faith. Reason and faith share in a mutually supportive relationship. Humanity’s advances in knowledge and technology pose no threat to religious belief. They instead provide another witness to the intricate wonders of God’s creation.
Discovery represented the zenith of human technological achievement. God’s voice was heard in the thunder of technological accomplishment. However, the launch took place within the context of the Maker’s awesome creation. The heavens did indeed proclaim the glory of the Lord!
The world is transparent with God’s presence. Let those with eyes to see, see. Let those with ears to hear, hear. We are all called to a discovery of faith.