A very nice read about religious experience as associated with space travel, enhanced by quotations from an international roster of astronauts.
For many people, space represents its own religion, a spiritual experience on its own, secular terms, with no help from the divine or ancient rituals. But for those who believe and travel into space, the experience can endow their faith with greater significance. There is awe in science because, simply, there is awe in reality. We use science to discover that reality, and some use religion to understand it, to feel it deeply.
There is perhaps nothing more human than the curiosity that compels exploration. But paired with that curiosity is a search for meaning — we don’t want to know just what is out there, we want to turn it into something with a story, something with sense. We turn to the gods for that meaning, and we turn to them for our safety as we go. Same as it’s always been, same as it ever was. As President Kennedy concluded his speech on our mission to the moon at Rice University in 1962, “Space is there and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and planets are there and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”
— Rebecca J. Rosen, “Communion on the Moon: The Religious Experience in Space,” The Atlantic, July 16, 2012
For best effect, consider pairing this article with The Atlantic‘s March piece about the religion of space itself: “The Holy Cosmos: The New Religion of Space Travel.”
Finish with this “Symphony of Science” video:
A new (Oct. 2) article at Space.com reports that theologians speaking at the DARPA-sponsored 100-Year-Starship Symposium have raised questions about the possible impacts on religion, and especially on Christianity, if the existence of extraterrestrial life is ever confirmed. The symposium itself was a public event held this past weekend (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) in Orlando, Florida, for a purpose that’s worth quoting:
The 100 Year Starship™ Study is an effort seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider “why not” and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight.
Space.com senior writer Clara Moskowitz attended the event and issued detailed descriptions of its proceedings, including the above-mentioned Space.com article, which reports on a presentation given by philosophy professor Christian Weidemann of Germany’s Ruhr-University Bochum about the meaning of ETs for religion in general and Christianity in particular:
It appears we’re in the midst of a mini-explosion of reflection about the status of the science fictional dreams that, according to some observers and thinkers, fueled our 20th-century race into space. Basically, the space program in its original conception or incarnation — which in addition to its obvious nature as a geopolitically motivated Cold War phenomenon was truly a vision-driven effort to explore beyond our own planet and establish a future for us among the stars — is dead or dying. Commercial spaceflight a la Richard Branson may indeed have a booming future, but this is a far cry from what we originally, collectively envisioned. At the same time, and in a most interesting development, NASA is attempting to address the lack-of-vision problem directly by returning to its philosophical roots in visionary science fiction and forging a relationship with modern SF writers (see below).
UFOs and aliens have been a widespread subcultural attraction for decades, but presently they’re bursting the subcultural boundaries and extending into Western society at large to reach the status of a bona fide, near-ubiquitous obsession. Even the (weird, incomprehensible, utterly Philistine) people who aren’t interested in them are now confronted by them at every turn, as the trend surges to new heights that were not even reached, I think, back during the 1970s era of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the 1990s era of alien abduction mania and The X-Files. Significantly, today’s surge isn’t just a matter of pop cultural items like movies, video games, TV shows, and comic books flooding shelves and screens — although they indeed are — but a matter of serious media attention being directed at the real-world question of real-world alien beings or life forms.
I find this cool.
Here are some signposts from the revolution