On Tuesday, SpaceX launched a successful test flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that launched the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Aside from the milestone of a private company launching such a powerful rocket, there was an added cool factor: the payload was founder Elon Musk’s midnight cherry Tesla Roadster. That’s right, thanks to SpaceX there is now a sexy sports car on its way toward Mars. The webcast of the launch was the second-most viewed livestream ever on Youtube, helped no doubt by the sports car marketing stunt. You can still check out the video of the launch and of the Tesla’s flight through space.
Besides the Tesla (and its mannequin driver, Starman), the most impressive thing was watching two out of the three rockets landed upright back on the ground. SpaceX has been doing this for a while, but it was still amazing to see live. I assume that most viewers did what I did while watching them land almost simultaneously: stared in awe, held their breath, and cheered when they touched the ground. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (see what I did there?) to appreciate what an incredible feat that was. Of course, the third rocket crashed in the ocean hard enough to damage the drone ship it was supposed to land on. There’s always room for improvement.
As a person of faith, I found myself praying for the people who were involved and for a safe and successful launch. I celebrated when it went well, and I hope other people of faith did too. The apostle Paul writes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). This rocket launch and others like it represent the good of human striving and cooperation. They are by no means the only or even the most important instances of it, but they are remarkable instances of it nonetheless. Things like this contain that which is true, honorable, pleasing, and commendable. A group of intelligent, talented, and dedicated people believed in something important, then achieved it by working hard and working together. The result is something that benefits humankind by increasing our collective knowledge and technology.
It’s no secret that we live in divisive times, when there is little respect or cooperation to go around. But watching the Falcon Heavy launch brought people together in a beautiful, joyful way, as was evident by the cheers, tweets, comments, and videos during and after the event. This reminder of what people can achieve when we work together toward a common goal was a breath of fresh air. All the more reason for people of faith to recognize the goodness in something like a rocket launch and the adventure and cooperation it represents. We can think well of it, because it is worthy of praise.
Space exploration is taking off (no pun intended). Private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have brought renewed competition and innovation into a new space race. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has stated repeatedly that his goal is to put humans on Mars, to see humankind become an multi-planetary species. Shooting a Tesla Roadster out past Mars, as silly and awesome as it was, shows that this goal is within reach. It has moved from science fiction into the realm of real possibility.
We will surely discover much that will disappoint or frighten us in this new space race. There are valid concerns about the privatization of space travel, not least of which is that the drive for profit will play too much of a role. There will be greed, pride, selfishness, and expensive marketing stunts. There will be simple, costly mistakes. Space travel, like any important human endeavor, will include the best and worst of humankind. We can run away from earth, but we can’t run away from ourselves.
But the success of Tuesday’s rocket launch is a reminder that there will be goodness too. There will be vice, but also virtue. There will be sin in all its forms, but there will also be creativity, cooperation, ingenuity, and hope. There will be hard work and teamwork and jobs well done. Wherever there is something good and worthy of praise, we can be sure that God is there.
We can’t outrun ourselves on our way into space, but neither can we run away from God’s grace that always goes before us.
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