Pilgrimage to NASA's Apollo Flight Center
Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution
report by Connie Barlow, February 2009
Johnson Space Center in Houston is a
Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution
because it was here that astronauts
trained to go to the Moon. Apollo 8 in
1968 captured the famous "Earthrise"
photos over the lunar landscape.
Apollo 17 in 1972 captured the famous
whole Earth photo (seen at right).
Thus, it was here that, in a sense,
Earth trained part of itself to see
itself from a distance and thus to
admire itself whole for the first time.
"Earth was once molten rock, and now it makes spaceships."
after Brian Swimme, cosmologist
In the company of NASA Flight Controller Liz Antognoli (above left), Michael Dowd and I visited Johnson Space Center just a week before the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. We had met Liz at Michael's presentation the evening before at the Yoga Rasa Center nearby. She volunteered to take us on a behind-the-scenes tour. Immediately I was impressed that NASA appeared to have no excess in its budget. Indeed, the bicycles that NASA has onsite for staff to quickly move around the large campus were not only rusty; they seemed to be of the same vintage as the model I learned to ride on back in the 1950s! The blue tarps (above right) covering the real-size simulations of two modules of the actual space station are there simply to protect them from a leaky roof harmed during the hurricane that hit Houston the prior year. Those modules are used to train shuttle astronauts to become familiar, inside and out, with the actual space station.
First stop in our pilgrimage was Mission Control for shuttle operations. Because a mission was in progress (with crew on board the space station, and one scheduled to return on a shuttle the next week), Mission Control was active. We were able to watch its operations through a giant glass window where tours routinely go. The above three photos were taken from that viewing room.
We also visited the huge facility in which full-size models of both the space shuttle and the space station modules are available for astronaut training. The photo above right is the model of the tail of the shuttle. Also in this room is a model of the next-generation explorer that is being developed to move around the surface of the moon (right side of the above center photo). Photo above left shows that NASA is happy to obtain supplies from everyday sources.
For both Michael and me, the highlight of our visit was a pilgrimage to a large room no longer in use: Mission Control for the Apollo flights. What an honor to be able to walk on the same carpet (photo lower right) that the flight controllers walked on back when Apollo 11 first carried an earthling to the surface of the Moon. The ragged old carpet is still stained; and that gave me a chance to imagine that some of those stains were from coffee spills during the crisis of Apollo 13. Liz, our guide, told us that the movie director chose not to use the actual room at NASA for filming, but to construct their own off-site. Even so, they matched all the details.
Roaming around that room, standing at the Flight Director console (Michael and Connie in photo top left), dialing on the old dial-up phone that was actually used back in the 60s and 70s (next photo), pulling an actual flight manual from a drawer (lower left), gazing at the plaques on the high wall that honored each and every mission (lower center) thank goodness this room has been declared a national historic landmark and will be preserved for all future generations to reflect on this pivotal event in Earth's history.
Finally, it was an honor to see a
close-up of a 1985 Challenger
shuttle mission because on that
flight was astronaut Loren Acton,
who had just a few months earlier
sent us an audio of a sermon he
delivered at his Methodist church
in Montana, because it was Michael
Dowd's book that had introduced
him to a sacred view of evolutionary
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