On July 20, 1969, Neal Armstrong walked on the moon. It was a technological achievement that was applauded around the world. America was proud!
There was one other successful moon landing and then a third was planned. Apollo 13 had a crew of 3 men: Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert. Lift-off was scheduled for April 10, 1970.
A lot of speculation preceded this venture and especially from those who were superstitious. The number 13 has long been counted as an unlucky omen and the 13th day of the month would pass during the week they were gone. But these men were scientists and they paid little attention to such things. Certainly the Bible does not support this fear. It was the 13th march around Jericho that brought the walls down, giving Israel the victory.
The launch took place on schedule. The world watched as these events dominated television coverage. Everything was progressing according to the book until day 3. The command was given to stir the oxygen tank. Two days, 7 hours and 54 minutes into the mission and 205,000 miles from earth, suddenly something went terribly wrong. It was April 13th. There was a large explosion and the spacecraft began to tumble uncontrollably. It was at this moment that NASA control center in Texas heard a very calm voice speak the words, "Houston, we have a problem."
In a moment, everything was changed. Plan A was no longer a viable option. But there was no plan B. Officials back at the Space Center in Florida were discussing this disaster in hopeless terms when Gene Kranz, Flight Director, walked into the room. He said, "I beg to differ gentlemen, this is our finest hour and failure is not an option." He continued, "There will be no more negative discussion. I want to know everything that is left on the ship that still works."
That was the beginning of plan B. The mission to the moon was scrapped. It now became a mission of survival. When determined people put their heads together, amazing results will take place.
It was not an easy task. You cannot just turn a space ship around. The explosion involving one of the oxygen tanks cut that supply dangerously low and then the fuel reserve was questionable as well as unknown damage to other parts of the craft. It was decided to use a slingshot maneuver, utilizing the moon's gravity to turn the ship back toward earth. Day 4 was spent on the dark side of the moon, which was only 137 miles from the surface and left Apollo out of contact with NASA communications.
The crew now depended on ground control. They followed faithfully all instructions, constructing various make-do procedures to meet the barest necessities and to maintain the ship on the proper trajectory that would bring it back to earth safely.
On April 17th they prepared for reentry. Yes, the original mission was not completed as planned and by some it was considered a failure. However it will go down in history as probably the most successful excursion into outer space because against all odds, 3 men were brought home again.
We may never travel beyond the sphere of this planet but we can learn a lot from the Apollo 13 experience. Christians face trials, tragedies and troubles daily. Often we think ours are worse that all others. Many anxieties come from borrowing the ‘what-ifs' from the future or continuing to fret over the spilt milk of yesterday. Jesus said, "Do not be concerned for the things that tomorrow will bring. The problems you face today are enough." Matt 6:34
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could forget the tension and hysteria for a moment, come to God on our knees and in a calm voice say, "Father, we have a problem!" And then with the renewed courage and faith begin to evaluate what we have left that still works. We can look for options that did not occur to us before the present difficulty appeared. It may turn out to be a wonderful blessing and an opportunity to use this experience to help others through dark shadows.
Do you know what those men, who had only a slim chance of ever setting foot on earth again, were doing while they were on the dark side of the moon incommunicado? Were they huddled somewhere bemoaning their situation? No, they were at the windows of the spaceship, taking pictures of the surface below. I am reminded of a small farm community in Kansas during a drought season. Christians had assembled to hold a prayer service to pray for the much needed rain. One little girl in the front row had brought her umbrella. Yes, we may believe that God will send a blessing but do we act like we believe it?
Failure is not an option! Success begins with a positive state of mind but it might have a different goal than the one we sought out to achieve. We must not be so set in our paths that we fail to see the fork in the road God has chosen for us. And truly, when the crisis is at its peak and we have the situation under control and our faith is strong, we can say, "This is our finest hour."
Millstadt, IL 62260
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