That the Moon, just like the Earth, turned out to be only a globe and that people were able to travel to that other celestial body made life on Earth somehow less unique. Mankind lived on one of many planets in a giant universe. One of the first radio broadcasts I listened to was the Apollo 8 travel report, the rocket that shot three spacemen to the Moon in December 1968. The voices of the American astronauts sounded in our living room as if they were speaking from the kitchen through the hatch.
I imagined the three grown men in their cramped capsule, helped by scarce black and white newspaper photos from those days. I wasn’t attracted by scarcely dressed film stars or long-haired pop singers; but the three Americans in their immaculate white suits were my heroes. I could easily memorize the names and the faces of Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders. Frank Borman was the most important of these three; he was the commander. My classmates were growing their hair in a revolutionary attempt to imitate The Beatles, but my mother emphasized Frank Bormans well crafted crew cut. Later it turned out that I had admired the wrong person, because Friesch Dagblad the newspaper that had published the pictures had changed the names of Borman and Anders.
My enthusiasm for these space pioneers was so great that I tried to infect others with it. I was surprised about friends who were interested in cars and footballers, who hardly seemed to realize that history was being written in space at this very moment. I described the adventurous journey to two older neighbor boys who received my story with skepticism for reasons that i didn’t understand. Suddenly their mother appeared in the doorway. This neighbour, who clearly had heard me, dried her hands on a tea towel and said, ‘Those men do not belong there. Within two days it will be Christmas time and then they should go to church.’ I was stunned, especially because her sons did not waste any more words on this issue.
Clearly not everyone was convinced of the importance of this trip to the Moon. Man traveled to places where he did not belong, and their timing, around Christmas, was less fortunate. My father put our neighbour’s opinion into a broader perspective: it was good to visit church regularly, but for some professions this was impossible: like that of doctors, policemen and firefighters. The final word had not been said about the necessity of an astronaut’s profession. It depended on your point of view. After the return from his first orbit round the earth The Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin said triumphantly: ‘God does not exist, because I have not seen him.’ A statement that rather proved the cosmonaut’s limited imagination than his scientific insights.
On Christmas Eve 1968, Borman, Lovell and Anders disappeared behind the Moon, temporarily losing radio contact with their home base. As the first people ever they saw the Earth rise above the Moon and they were very impressed. After observing the lifeless lunar landscape with its many craters, they suddenly saw the blue planet that was protected by only a thin atmosphere, rising up into the inky black void. This was not just one of the many celestial bodies, this was a unique place that had not been created by accident.
We saw the pictures that the astronauts made only weeks later. But even the image of the beautiful, colorful but vulnerable earth made it understandable why these Americans had been so impressed. These photographs inspired the Club of Rome, a group of scientists who are worried about the future of the world and who propagate growth limits.
After some intrusive cracking, the radio connection with the Apollo 8 was restored again during that Christmas Eve. William Anders read the opening sentences of the Bible that they had brought: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’ Frank Borman closed off saying: ‘From the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.’ No preacher in any church could have expressed that truth better than these three American astronauts 385,000 kilometers from home.