I was driving my dad’s 1959 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight as fast as I could through the roads of southeast Missouri to get home in time to see the biggest televised event of the age. It was July 20, 1969, and NASA’s Apollo 11 mission had landed two men on the moon. Sometime late on that Sunday afternoon Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would step out of their lunar module onto the surface of the moon—the first human beings to set foot on another world.
I had been spending the weekend with friends and was determined to watch this moment. With a few minutes to spare I pulled into our driveway, ran through the door and plopped down in front of our black-and-white television, hoping the set would not stop working, as it often did.
Within a few minutes the TV showed the surface of the moon and a lone figure emerging from the lunar lander. Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and in that moment history was made!
Thinking back on that time from today’s perspective, it seems near-miraculous that not only did the United States accomplish this monumental goal, but that millions of people could see and hear it as it happened. The amazing fact that these sights and sounds could be transmitted across the vast distance into our homes was something we did not take for granted in that day. It was a new world of technological achievement, and I was watching it unfold in the small living room of our modest home in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
The Apollo 11 astronauts left a plaque on the moon displaying their names, that of then-U.S. President Richard Nixon, and the following words: “Here men from planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. A.D. 1969. We came in peace for all mankind.”
The words “we came in peace” speak loudly about the intent of the American effort to be the first nation to land men on the moon. While the advances in technology spawned by the space program benefited every corner of everyday life, there is also the fact that military applications also benefited from the burgeoning space program. Yet it was not to make war that America made this “giant leap” for mankind. It was to advance human knowledge and exploration.
That was then. Today we face a different reality.
The new reality of space war and cyber war
In May 2014, U.S. Air Force personnel monitored a space launch by Russia. Over the next few days they observed what they call a “kamikaze satellite” maneuver around a discarded piece of space debris. It was obvious the satellite was using engine thrusters to simulate an attack on another satellite. Clearly Russia had developed the capability to take out another nation’s satellites, an ominous prelude to something bigger.
Months later China launched a satellite with a large arm capable of reaching out and lifting another satellite out of its orbit and neutralizing its capability. Such a weapon could be used in low-orbit positions to take out GPS satellites used for directional targeting of missiles and other military communication.
America depends on such space technology for early detection of nuclear missiles from hostile regimes. Such launches by China and Russia highlight the growing prospect of war in space. U.S. President Donald Trump has called for America to develop a “Space Force,” saying that space is “the next step, and we have to be prepared.”
A space war is not just a plot line for a science-fiction movie anymore. It is a real possibility and could quickly develop. A nation with smaller forces could easily level the playing field against a larger power with a few carefully coordinated insertions of lethal cyberattacks. What would a space war and cyber war against an advanced modern political power like the United States, Great Britain or the European Union look like?
It would start silently and without warning. It might even appear at first to be nothing but a minor “cyber hiccup.” Televisions would go dark. Internet connections would sputter. ATMs would malfunction.
But the big picture would be far more ominous. Vital communications satellites would be knocked out by either ground-based laser technology or the “kamikaze satellites.” The ability to monitor missile launches or counter with a coordinated attack would be quickly eliminated.
Beyond this, modern life would quickly grind to a halt.
The Internet would go down. Financial transactions large and small—from Wall Street to the local ATM—would cease. Traffic lights would quit working. Trains, water-filtration plants and electric grids would grind to a halt. Airlines would be grounded. Weather satellites helping with forecasting would stop sending needed information.
Beyond increased vulnerability to direct attack, the social fabric of everyday life would quickly begin to unravel as food disappeared from store shelves and water no longer flowed from faucets. Much of modern life would be paralyzed.
Space, where men had gone in peace, would be turned into a killing field.
Preparing for a dangerous future
The noble effort of America’s first space program, “peace for all mankind,” has taken an inevitable turn. It’s been said that any weapon devised by the human mind is eventually used in war. So it is with the militarization of space.
While America remains dominant in space, its lead is rapidly diminishing. Last year Beijing launched 38 satellites into orbit while America launched 34. It has been 50 years since America last sent men to the moon. This year China landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
Recently, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan wrote of the need for the creation of an American Space Force. Its purpose would be to coordinate America’s response to the advances made by Russia, China and other nations in space technology—much of those efforts aimed at creating a counter to American leadership in space.
From America’s strategic perspective it appears space has become a “war-fighting domain.” Shanahan stated: “We would prefer that space remain free from conflict. Fifty years ago the U.S. led humanity to the moon. To borrow the words of the plaque left on the lunar surface by Apollo 11: ‘We came in peace for all mankind.’ China and Russia make no such claim. Until they credibly commit to such a course, we must ensure our nation’s military remains the most advanced on Earth—and above it” (“It’s Time to Create an American Space Force,” The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2019).
What about peaceful pursuits?
The weaponizing of space by Russia, China, America and any other political power creates additional peril for mankind’s future. Ironically, this rush to develop space as a battleground comes at a time when other voices call for America to lead a return to space exploration for the benefit of humanity.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has said America is going back to the moon. Calls for a permanent moon base are linked to such a return. Former Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin recently wrote that Mars should be the next big leap for mankind:
“Mars is waiting to be discovered, not by clever robots and rovers—though I support NASA’s unmanned missions—but by living, breathing, walking, talking, caring and daring men and women. To make that happen, members of Congress, the Trump administration and the American public must care enough to make human exploration missions to Mars a national priority” (“It’s Time to Focus on the Great Migration of Humankind to Mars,” The Washington Post, May 1, 2019).
The United States is probably the only nation with the technology and resources to achieve a Mars landing and base. Aldrin’s call, however, contains a serious note to consider. As the article’s title says, he is calling for a “Great Migration to Mars.” He speaks of permanent settlement. This is truly the stuff of science fiction and Hollywood movies! Just putting a single person on Mars, much less establishing a human colony there, far transcends the challenges of a manned mission to the moon.
Aldrin continued: “As [a] matter of orbital mechanics, missions from Earth to Mars for migration are complex. That said, human nature—and potentially the ultimate survival of our species—demands humanity’s continued outward reach into the universe. Call it curiosity or calculation, strategic planning or destiny. Put simply: We explore, or we expire. That is why we must get on with it.”
For Aldrin, and for many others who ponder space travel and humanity’s future, such a mission to Mars is a matter of “the ultimate survival of our species.” Whether because of the threat of nuclear war or catastrophic environmental destruction by man or natural causes, many futurists see migration to another planet as the only hope for the survival of the human race.
Grim scenarios for a deeply divided nation
So we see two views of the future of space. One sees a place where the next global war could be triggered, perhaps by a stealth attack on satellites turning out the lights here below as prelude to a nuclear attack. The other sees a place where mankind must migrate to establish colonies—survival outposts if Earth’s ecosphere is destroyed. Which scenario will come to pass?
The economic cost in the face of either scenario is daunting. There’s no question that, given enough time and money, human technology could create smart weapons to thwart cyberattack. It’s even conceivable that the immense technical obstacles to a Mars migration could be overcome. But whoever attempts to do this would have to convince the public it is worth the cost. In America right now that would be a tough sell.
The immediate human problems of health care, economic security, national debt, immigration and war present demands for more money and resources. Is there a real appetite in today’s public to spend billions to go further into outer space?
In 1960s America there were large social demands requiring money and time that nearly ended the space program on several occasions. But back then there was a great will to land a man on the moon. Today is a different time with a different national mood. The divisions in American culture may be deep enough to hinder the national will needed to sustain the high goal of leaping forward in space exploration.
A prophecy from the days of Moses speaks to a time when a nation’s will to exercise power and accomplish would be broken because of sin and the resulting deep fractures in the national life. God said: “I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. Your strength shall be spent in vain . . .” (Leviticus 26:19-20).
America is at a moment when its pride in who and what it is has been attacked and weakened. Events of the past 50 years have sown the seeds of cultural and spiritual death. Recent decades have produced a growing cancer within the body that is now rapidly metastasizing from head to toe. The cultural catastrophe erupting in America is a sad and poignant counterpoint to the day 50 years ago when the first men stepped onto the moon. In those 50 years we have come to a point where space could no longer be a place of peace but a place of war.
Looking back at the day Apollo 11 landed is to see a different America from that of today. Where will we go from here?
There are voices today that call out the nation for its past sins. And indeed there have been many sins, some of which have, as 19th-century U.S. President Abraham Lincoln put it, been paid with blood “drawn with the sword.”
Yet this country has served in many vital ways to benefit the world. Why? The fact is, the technological prowess to design and build a spacecraft to take men to the moon and return them safely to earth is a part of the story of God’s promises to another man named Abraham. It is a remarkable story, one you need to become familiar with. What America could use at this moment of remembrance is a clear understanding and appreciation for what God has provided by His grace and faithfulness!