The first words Yuri Gagarin is supposed to have said when he reached orbit were: ‘I see earth. It is so beautiful’. The first words in space from the first human to orbit the earth, 52 years ago today.
Since then, that image of the blue drop of the earth hanging in the vast darkness has lodged itself in the modern consciousness. To me it’s still extraordinary, a thing hard to grasp, that we have travelled beyond the arms of our planet, and come home again.
Eleven years after Yuri Gagarin first saw the earth from space, Eugene Cernan became the last man to leave his footprints on the moon. He was on the final Apollo Mission in 1972 and he often talked afterwards about how deeply he was affected by the experience. He described being on the moon as ‘standing on God’s front porch’ and said that when he came back to earth he was filled with ‘a yearning restlessness’ which was never satisfied. It’s exactly how I imagine you would feel: and I wonder how many of the astronauts ever fully came home after their missions.
Or maybe, the return to earth was the most wonderful homecoming they ever had. Maybe you are never so aware of how fragile and insignificant we are, until you have flung yourself into the immensity of the unknown; and maybe it’s the magnetic force of love and the unquenchable human spirit that pulls you back to earth, just as surely as gravity.
God of the heavens and the earth, of the darkness of space and the light of spring, hold our world and the people we love, today and always. Amen.