We reached the moon, and it was barren. The bleak moonscape of rocks and dust is a fitting metaphor for the landscape of separation, whether the emotional desolation of the man of reason, or the ugly homogeneity of suburbia.
Yet our sojourn—the entire course of separation—is not without purpose. To convey a hint of what that purpose might be, I’ve selected a few quotes from astronauts describing their experiences as they gazed upon the earth from the vantage point of the most extreme literal separation human beings have ever known:
“From the moon, the Earth is so small and so fragile, and such a precious little spot in that Universe, that you can block it out with your thumb. Then you realize that on that spot, that little blue and white thing, is everything that means anything to you — all of history and music and poetry and art and death and birth and love, tears, joy, games, all of it right there on that little spot that you can cover with your thumb. And you realize from that perspective that you’ve changed forever, that there is something new there, that the relationship is no longer what it was.” ~ Rusty Schweickart
“When I was the last man to walk on the moon in December 1972, I stood in the blue darkness and looked in awe at the Earth from the lunar surface. What I saw was almost too beautiful to grasp. There was too much logic, too much purpose — it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. It doesn’t matter how you choose to worship God… God has to exist to have created what I was privileged to see.” ~ Gene Cernan
“On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the Universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.” ~ Edgar Mitchell
“The first day we all pointed to our own countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.” ~ Sultan bin Salman al-Saud
“It isn’t important in which sea or lake you observe a slick of pollution, or in the forests of which country a fire breaks out, or on which continent a hurricane arises. You are standing guard over the whole of our Earth.” ~ Yuri Artyukhin
“With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the moon, no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact have been the most important reason of all.” ~ Joseph P. Allen
Like its most iconic achievement, space travel, science has taken us on flights of intellect to a cold, barren, alien realm, reducing life to a collection of forces and masses.
And yet, this new vantage point has revealed a previously unsuspected splendor. Gazing through the lens of accumulated scientific knowledge at a body or a cell, when we really get its complexity and orchestration, its order and its beauty, the perfect mesh of levels and systems, then we know we are in the presence of a miracle. Awe is the only authentic response.
Science has brought us to a place where we can walk in living awe of the ongoing miracle that is the world. In analogy to Joseph Allen’s thought above, perhaps it is this, and not control, that is the true purpose of science. It is to apprehend new realms of the awesome.