Moon event a metaphor for our place in Heaven
The Catholic Register, 6 August 2019
Yorba Linda, California - The Apollo space program was heavy on Scripture in its great public moments. In the live television broadcast on Christmas Eve 1968, the three astronauts read from Genesis 1:1-10: “In the beginning God created….”
The moon of course — and the entire vastness of the universe — is as much a part of creation as the Earth itself. Heaven — communion with God in the company of the saints — is not a place on the moon or the planets or the stars. Yet the lunar missions were treated as a metaphor — perhaps more than that — for man’s aspiration to reach God in His Heaven. In his famous phone call 50 years ago to the astronauts on the moon, President Richard Nixon put it in just those terms.
“Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world,” Nixon said. “And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth.”
Read literally, there is a touch of salvation-by-our-means to that, as if we could capture Heaven and bring it to Earth. But Nixon was using the “heavens” here in its double sense, that of the astronomical, “celestial” bodies, and that of the realm of the blessed.
On the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing — July 20, 1969 — I visited a special Apollo 11 exhibition here at the Nixon Presidential Library. While we associate the Apollo program with JFK’s 1961 promise of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely,” it was actually Nixon who was a new president when it happened. Hence the Nixon archives have some fascinating details about Apollo 11.
One of the most remarkable items in the exhibition is a memorandum from William Safire, the presidential speechwriter, to Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman. Discovered only in 1999, it contained a speech written for Nixon entitled “In Event of Moon Disaster.”
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