Fifty Years Later… The Many Meanings of Apollo 11

Anxious Bench | 7/16/2019 | Staff
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Fifty years ago today, a Saturn V rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, carrying Apollo 11 on the first leg of its historic journey to the surface of the moon. I’ll be interested to see how people interpret that anniversary this week. But as I’ve glanced back at the history of the Space Race, I’m struck again at how contemporaries attached religious — or at least metaphysical or moral — meaning to Apollo 11 and its predecessors.

I wrote two posts on the religious history of NASA last year: the first drawing heavily on Kendrick Oliver’s To Touch the Face of God, then a second on the “spiritual, but not religious” life of Neil Armstrong. Today I just want to offer a few more examples of the intersection of religion with the Space Race: one from my ongoing research project, and the others sparked by watching the new PBS documentary, Chasing the Moon.

Robert - Stone - Son - Lawrence - Stone

Directed by Robert Stone (son of British historian Lawrence Stone), the three-part American Experience film opens on July 16, 1969, with observers weighing in on Apollo 11 as it prepares to take off. Oddly enough, one of the most profoundly religious takes comes from the sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun, commenting for CBS from his vantage point several miles away on Cocoa Beach:

Some of us think that the tremendous interest in space travel is, in a sense, a search for another Eden – that man has a kind of guilt about the world in which he lives and that he has despoiled the place where he is, and that perhaps he ought now in his maturity to set out to find another place, a place which man could go to, leaving behind the rusty cage in which his own mistakes have held him.

Time

It wasn’t the first time in...
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