Yesterday Michael Melvill flew SpaceShipOne 60 miles up into space. This is the first private venture into space. If Melvill, designer Bert Rutan, and the rest of their team can do just two such flights with slightly more cargo weight in a two-week span they stand to win the the Ansari X Space prize. This flight and the prize promise to inaugurate a new era in man’s move into space. Sure, billionaire-backer Paul Allen is talking suborbital tourism but even Melvill looked pained at the press conference when Allen brought it up. That’s finances and dilettantry, necessary but sordid stuff. The real dream, the real candle that SpaceShipOne has lit in the darkness, is the catechism that you’ve heard from us enthusiasts before: moonbase, powersatellites, asteroid mining, space colonies, terraformed Mars, the Oort cloud, photon sails, bussard ramjets, the stars, be there. It all starts with sub-orbital flights. Thank you, Mr. Melvill and Mr Rutan and Mr. Allen. These are marvelous times.
A lot of us Latter-day Saints are space enthusiasts. Maybe that’s because a lot of us Latter-day Saints are Americans who can’t help living the dreams of our nation. Well and good. A fraction are like me, who also have a buried dream of Deseret. We almost dare to hope that when mankind has wide open space again we can venture out and find a place for us, just for us, again. Call us incipient Zionists. But Americanism and Zionism only explain LDS enthusiasm in part.
Melvill was visibly moved after his flight into space. He said that it was “almost a religious experience.” He said that he was all alone up there “except for maybe the Lord.” He remembered feeling that “you’ve reached out and touched the face of God.” No one was surprised he said that. Space enthusiasm in this country is a sort of religious enthusiasm.
Like all true religious enthusiasms, we can adopt it as Saints. God has thrown the doors wide open in this last dispensation. We believe all things, we hope all things. We are free to embrace the miracle of moon landing and of Apollo 13. We are free mourn the launch pad fire of Apollo 1. We can with one President say of the dead in the Challenger, We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” With another President and of other dead we can say, The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home. For us the Eagle has landed. We are free to look at the night sky and want to be there.
The heavens are opened, we are called in this generation to do a great work, to come to know God in the quiet of our prayer chambers, to preach him to every living creature, and, just as Adam named all of His creatures, to venture out to all the works of His hands.