Awe-full at the Houston Space Center

Not something you see every day in the parking lot: a 747 with a space shuttle on its back. Talk about a traffic-stopper.

Next stop: Mars!

My husband and I visited the Space Center in Houston this week, and it renewed my wonder and respect for everything NASA has accomplished since its inception. To be able to touch a rock that came from the moon, and appreciate even half of what that represents in human effort, imagination, and sheer guts, is an awe-full experience! One of the exhibits we especially liked modeled the surface of Mars and reviewed NASA’s projects that are aimed at putting humans on the planet. After seeing the exhibit, it’s clear that the movie The Martian borrowed extensively from accurate information collected by NASA scientists. The idea that I might live to see a person on Mars is mind-blowing…and reinforces everything I’ve ever believed about the incredible power of imagination to create new realities.

Brave hearts

Touring the Space Center in Houston also reminded me of the intrepid nature of humankind. When you see a Mercury capsule up-close, how can you NOT marvel at the risk astronauts take when they launch into space? My husband, stunned by the fragility of the Mercury capsule on display, said that early space travel was akin to sending someone into space in a tin can. What were we thinking?! When you examine the capsule, it’s terrifyingly evident that mere inches separated a person from the enormity of outer space. Not to mention those first astronauts who walked out of their capsules into the infinite darkness…just trying to think of that experience rocks me to the core! How much trust would that require in the humans who enabled you to do it? How much faith in yourself, and in God? Another movie I’ve watched comes to mind: Gravity. In that film, I caught a glimpse of what it might mean to experience total aloneness, floating in space, with only the bare resources of mind, body, and spirit at hand. The concept still sends shivers down my spine.

Touching the stars…or the moon, at least

In a similar way, I went speechless when I saw the Apollo module on display. It had actually traveled in space, to the moon and back, its skin beaten by cosmic radiation and the raw forces of nature. As a life-long astronomy fan, I’ve always been fascinated by the stars, the limitless frontiers of the universe, so to stand next to something that had physically entered those reaches of space was a humbling moment for me. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist the exhibit’s invitation to touch a tiny sliver of rock from the moon – it, too, had been somewhere I could only imagine. In a way, it felt like touching a dream, but one that has become very real. I have no intention of ever walking on the moon or Mars, but knowing that it has been – and will be – done, expands my own horizons, as well as the world’s.

Because I spend a lot of time outdoors, enjoying and appreciating the natural world, I don’t often think of human accomplishment as something of awe. NASA’s Space Center changed that for me. When I look at the star-studded skies tonight, I’ll be giving thanks not only to God for a magnificent creation, but for the amazing character of good women and men who have led us to explore and claim that creation more deeply.