The Moon Race: Godless Socialism vs. Faithful Americanism

By 1927, Robert Goddard, an American physicist, engineer, and inventor, was already famous worldwide for his contributions to rocketry.  In 1920, less than two decades after the Wright brothers astounded the world by flying for twelve seconds at an altitude of ten feet, the Smithsonian Institution published Goddard's groundbreaking paper, "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes."

Called "The Father of the Space Age," Goddard was the first scientist to give serious scientific treatment to the idea that space travel was possible.  As is noted in The Miracle and Magnificence of America, before 1920, Goddard was successfully building rockets and rocket engines and making rocket fuel.  A staunch patriot, and with the goal of producing rockets that would assist in the war effort, in 1917, Goddard went to work for the U.S. Army.  He was able to develop rockets with launchers that could be fired from trenches.  He also developed hand-held launchers similar to what would later be known as the bazooka.

Goddard was the first to build a rocket engine that used liquid fuel.  Fifteen years later, the Nazis would use the same type of engine in their V-2 rocket weapons.  With funding from Daniel Guggenheim, an American mining magnate and philanthropist, in 1935, Goddard became the first to launch a liquid-fueled rocket faster than the speed of sound.  In addition to fuels and engines, in his pursuit of getting rockets into space, Goddard also invented many of the components necessary for space travel.  Thus, again, America was leading the world to new frontiers.

Goddard was credited with much of the progress the Germans achieved with the V-2 rocket.  In 1963, Wernher von Braun — who oversaw the development of Germany's V-2 rocket — admitted that Goddard's rockets "may have been rather crude by present-day standards, but they blazed the trail and incorporated many features used in our most modern rockets and space vehicles."  He also concluded that "Goddard's experiments in liquid fuel saved us years of work, and enabled us to perfect the V-2 years before it would have been possible."

In the fall of 1932, just prior to the Nazis coming to power in Germany, von Braun began working for the German army.  With the Nazi focus on rebuilding Germany's military, significant resources for rocket research were made available.  Work was done, not only with ballistic missiles, but also "rocket-planes."

After the defeat of the Nazis, the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union rushed to get their hands on German rocket technology.  Von Braun and over 100 other V-2 personnel surrendered to the U.S. forces.  A V-2 engineer famously said: "We despise the French; we were mortally afraid of the Soviets; we do not believe the British can afford us, so that leaves the Americans."  Also, von Braun reasoned that the United States "was the nation most likely to use its resources for space exploration."

After their surrender to the Americans, Dr. von Braun declared:

We knew that we had created a new means of warfare, and the question as to what nation, to what victorious nation we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision more than anything else.  We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.

A nation "guided by the Bible" would have a life-changing impact on Wernher von Braun.  Born into a Lutheran family in what is now Poland, while gaining prominence as a rocket scientist in the German empire of the late 1930s and early to mid-1940s, von Braun led a life that was mostly devoid of any real faith in God.  That changed shortly after he entered the U.S.  As Darrin Rodgers notes:

In Texas, while living at Fort Bliss, a neighbor invited [von Braun] to church.  He went, expecting to find the religious equivalent of a country club.  Instead, he found a small white frame building with a vibrant congregation of people who loved the Lord.  He realized that he had been morally adrift and that he needed to surrender himself to God.  He converted to Christ and, over the coming years, became quite outspoken in his evangelical faith and frequently addressed the complementarity of faith and science.

By 1946, V-2s were being launched from American soil.  Such efforts led to the United States achieving many of the world's firsts in space travel.  On October 24, 1946, a 35-mm motion picture camera placed aboard a V-2 took the first ever photo from space.  The U.S. was the first to put animals into space.  On June 14, 1949, the U.S. put the first mammal in space.

On October 14, 1947, in the rocket-powered Bell Aircraft X-1, at an altitude of about 45,000 feet, traveling at Mach 1.07, Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first human to travel faster than the speed of sound.  Supersonic flight soon became a regular occurrence.  In spite of all the technological, industrial, and human resource advantages held by the United States, with the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, the Soviets, not the Americans, ushered in the space age.  The news shocked the world.

On January 31, 1958, America joined the Soviets in space.  Under the direction of Dr. von Braun, launched aboard the Juno I rocket, the Explorer I was the first satellite of the United States.  However, through the next several years, the Soviets achieved a number of other notable firsts in the space race.

The Soviets were the first to have a satellite to reach the vicinity of the Moon and the first to have a satellite reach heliocentric orbit (orbit around the Sun).  They were also the first nation to land a man-made object on the Moon.  In August of 1960, Sputnik 5 was the first space flight to carry animals into orbit and return them safely to Earth.  On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space.

On May 5, 1961, aboard the space capsule Freedom 7, Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space.  In August of 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov manned the first space flight lasting over 24 hours.  Significantly, Titov would soon tell the world, "Sometimes people are saying that God is out there.  I was looking around attentively all day but I didn't find anybody there.  I saw neither angels nor God."  The Soviets were quick to use this in their anti-religious propaganda.

By the 1960s, the godless Soviets quickly fell far behind America in the race to put a man on the moon.  In a stark contrast to the atheist Titov, von Braun, the technical architect of the Saturn V vehicle that took men to the moon and back, is quoted as saying,

[T]he more we learn about God's creation, the more I am impressed with the orderliness and unerring perfection of the natural laws that govern it.  In this perfection, man — the scientist — catches a glimpse of the Creator and his design for nature.

As has been the case throughout American history, there's little doubt that such a humble, biblically based worldview played no small role in the U.S. beating the Soviets to the Moon.  Only one nation on Earth — the United States of America — had the taxpayer funding, the technical capability, the infrastructure, the many thousands of private contractors, and the moral character necessary to rise to the near impossible challenge of the Apollo space program.

In December of 1968, almost exactly seven months prior to the Apollo 11 Moon mission, the three astronauts of Apollo 8, in what was the most watched television broadcast of its time, read word-for-word the first 10 chapters of the book of Genesis.  During the Apollo 11 mission, after landing on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, a devout Christian, took Holy Communion on the Moon.  A year later, Aldrin said he chose to do such to symbolize "the thought that God was revealing Himself there, too, as man reached out into the universe.  For there are many of us in the NASA program who do trust that what we are doing is part of God's eternal plan for man."

Notably, only twelve men, all Americans, have walked on the surface of the Moon.  I believe that the humility and reverence the USA displayed during the Apollo program was one of the reasons God blessed it.  If we wish to accomplish similar things as a nation, we would do well to remember such.

Trevor Grant Thomas: At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor is the author of the The Miracle and Magnificence of America.