This week marks the 50th anniversary of an incredible moment in history as the first human beings walked on the moon.
There are black and white photographs and video of the occasion – the astronauts bouncing on the surface, the erection of the American flag, the collection of rocks, the footprints left behind.
But maybe, just maybe, the most powerful aspect of the first visit of our lunar neighbor was in the view of ourselves.
As the astronauts stood there, on the moon, they could see the earth. They took photos and video of our home planet while standing somewhere else.
No human being had ever stood on any other celestial being but on earth prior to that moment.
And suddenly, the fascination came to be about the truth in looking back at us.
We are so enthralled with our day-to-day lives, dramas, controversies, personal and collective satisfaction that we don’t realize we are just little specs on a big blue ball rolling around in an immense universe.
Well, until representatives of Earth are standing far away, seeing if for themselves and showing it to the rest of us.
The Science Channel had a documentary about the moon landing this week and I was so interested to hear a person (now long retired from NASA) say it was “humbling for humanity to see itself,” from the cameras held by those astronauts.
I was on the earth when the astronauts took those first steps on the moon – I just wasn’t old enough to be conscious of the incredible feat that was taking place.
So it was with earnest interest at 3:30 a.m., the other night, as I stretched out in bed and watched that documentary. Sure, it was interesting to revisit the details of 50-year-old science and to rediscover what an incredible journey man had somehow made.
But I think I was most enthralled by the photos and video of all the millions of people watching black and white televisions – all over the planet – being enthralled by the view of themselves being sent back by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.
The commentator said there was a mantra in other countries – besides America – of “we did it.” Suddenly, it was no longer about the Americans beating the Russians, the commentator said – it was about collective humanity reaching beyond its perceived boundaries and taking a hard look at itself.
A real look – both literally and figuratively.
Obviously, so much has advanced since July 20, 1969 – we have the space station, we had many shuttle missions and there are satellites orbiting all around us. So there are now millions of images of the earth taken from other viewpoints.
But there is still something awe-inspiring about that first view from the moon taken 50 years ago.
What began as great pride in achievement momentarily evolved into the awareness that all the tensions and conflicts and wars and disagreements (all man-made) on earth just couldn’t be seen from the moon. All that could be seen from that standpoint was a beautiful place given by God to humanity – for us to use as long as He allows us.
The first trip to the moon was historical and fascinating – but even more so was looking back at ourselves.