Royal Wootton Bassett

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We are not, however, all-conquering. And looking at our astronauts space-walking, anchored to the space-craft by means of slender wires and hooks, and kept alive by an umbilical pipe, with the enormity of space in the background, our fragility and vulnerability and insignificance are also obvious. We also have a lot more to understand about the creation around us.

A few years ago now I attended a conference at which Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit theologian and the Pope’s astronomer, was speaking. His area of research is exploring the connections between meteorites, asteroids and the evolution of small solar system bodies. And he spent one evening asking us to consider how God’s presence, activity and glory are to be discerned in the heavens. It is amazing, he insisted, what we already know of the enormity and the complexity and the wonder of the universe. And it is also amazing just how much there is still to learn. So what next step or discovery, I wonder, might move us further in that direction today?

Canon Jane

Eighteen thousand miles an hour
Fuelled by science and solar power
The oceans racing past
At half a thousand tons
Ninety minutes Moon to Sun
A bullet can’t go half this fast

Floating from my seat
Look out my window
There goes Home
That brilliant ball of blue
Is where I’m from, and also where I’m going to

Lyrics from Is somebody singing, written and performed by Chris Hadfield and Ed Robertson,as Colonel Chris Hadfield orbited the earth aboard the International Space Station.

Dear Friends,

Where were you?

Where were you on 21st July 1969 at precisely 3:56am?

Being a mere five years old at the time I’m pretty sure I would have been safely tucked up in bed, but I don’t remember, being only five. My husband Richard however was all of seven years old and vividly remembers being got out of bed by his father and sat in front of the family’s 14” black and white television to watch Neil Armstrong step off the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle and

onto the lunar surface and famously say:

"That's one small step for a man,

one giant leap for mankind."

The first ever human foot planted on another world.

“We were fortunate to have such a large set. My uncle and aunt who had a television way before my family only had a 4” model! But that night my father and I were joined by an estimated 600 million people, about 20% of the world’s population at the time (there are more than twice as many of us on the planet now).

We watched a television picture that was being broadcast on a 405 lines VHF transmission (no high tech 625 lines UHF transmission for us in those days!). But the picture we were watching had been captured by a television camera from a NTSC television (525 lines) in the USA, which itself had been captured from a SSTV (Slow Scan Television, about 240 lines) signal from the moon. So the original picture was of low quality to start with, and then it was copied twice and bounced around the world via satellites.

So as my father and I watched the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon we could hardly work out what was going on because it looked like we were watching through a snowstorm. If it hadn’t been for James Burke’s commentary I wonder if we would have had much idea of what was going on. If you watch archive video from the moon now you watch a more direct version of the video feed, not the one we watched live after having been converted through a number of TV formats, so you don’t get the snow storm! Which is a pity really, as that version would take me right back to that early morning 50 years ago.”

What I have only just learnt is what had happened some seven hours previously, just after the lunar landing. The 20th July 1969 was a Sunday. As a good Presbyterian Buzz Aldrin had taken with him a communion kit prepared by the pastor of the Presbyterian Church he attended in Webster. And immediately after landing on the moon, the first thing Buzz Aldrin did was take communion. His church still uses the chalice that he brought back from the moon every year on the nearest Sunday to the 20th July to commemorate this first ever communion on the moon. NASA however did not publicise it, fearful of the complaints. When a broadcast of the crew of Apollo 8 reading from the book of Genesis on Christmas Eve whilst orbiting the moon had gone out the previous year, many viewers had not been happy.

 For those of us who have lived through the last fifty years, we look back and wonder if it could really be so long ago. And how things have changed since. My grandparent’s generation witnessed the Wright brothers’ first powered aircraft flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Only a few years ago, and I wrote a piece for another parish’s magazine wondering at the complex,technological marvel that is the International Space Station. Some seventy metres long and a hundred metres wide,it travels at a speed of five miles per second, and orbits the earth every ninety minutes. More than an acre of solar arrays provide power to the station, which makes it the next brightest object in the night sky after the moon. It is a micro-gravity laboratory, bringing together the very best of science, technology and human innovation that can demonstrate new technologies and can also undertake experiments just not possible in earth’s gravity. And today, Richard and I are enjoying Brian Cox’s television series The Planets, and our search for life elsewhere in our solar system. Just look at what human creativity, ingenuity and imagination can achieve.