Archive for June 2013

Space Sailor

June 10, 2013

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

            The word “astronaut” comes from the Greek word meaning “space sailor.” Commander Chris Hadfield is most definitely a space sailor. Recently, Commander Hadfield spent just over 5 months as the first Canadian astronaut in command of the International Space Station. During his time aboard the space station, Hadfield started really keeping up with his social media accounts. His Reddit, Tumblr, and Twitter accounts were so popular, Forbes Magazine called him, “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut to ever leave earth.” Social media is how I got to know about the adventures and ideas of Commander Hadfield. After seeing some really amazing pictures retweeted by other accounts, I started following Hadfield to see what the buzz was about.

Commander Hadfield was posting all these different pictures and science experiments from space, the whole time he was up there. Think about that for a second. He was posting to websites, from space. We’ve had the ability to communicate with our own space vessels from the very beginning, but this is different. He was live posting articles, pictures, videos, and other commentary from the International Space Station. That’s amazing!

Some of the videos that he posted involved interactions with school children. You see, as part of the Canadian educational system, the Canadian Space Agency, or CSA, held town hall style meetings between Commander Hadfield and elementary school children from all over Canada. The children could submit questions to the astronaut and, if their question was interesting enough, then Commander Hadfield would be broadcast live, again from the ISS, to the school to personally answer the question. Again, amazing.

Two lucky schoolgirls, only mentioned as Meredith and Kendra in the YouTube video, got their question answered. Her question was simple enough, “What happens when you wring out a wet washcloth in space?” Now, we need to think about that for a minute. That doesn’t sound like anything remarkable, but in space, there is no gravity!

In order to answer the question, Commander Hadfield uses a wireless microphone, one of the standard ones that is about this big and has the battery pack on the end. And that’s nothing amazing in itself, except that Hadfield is interacting with this microphone in space! Where there is no gravity! The whole time he’s getting out a water bottle and washcloth and the other equipment, he just lets the microphone float in front of his face! I’ve seen movies with Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon floating around. I’ve seen on television the intense amount of training that it takes to go to space, including free falling in a plane to simulate weightlessness, but y’all need to understand that this is real life space! This is wild stuff!

So after Commander Hadfield gets out his washcloth and water bottle, he proceeds to let the microphone float in front of his face while he squirts out water. And this water is in a bag with one of those neat little straws that has a safety clip on it. If they didn’t have that clip that could be closed, then the water would just float out of the bottle around in the space station. No gravity! He unleashes the water and it just floats in a blob. Then, he uses the unfolded washcloth, which had been compressed into a small “hockey puck” to save space, to absorb all the water. He gets it soaking wet and starts to wring it out.

Now here on earth, we would just expect that water to fall to the ground or into the sink or wherever else we’re at when we wring it out. But in space, there’s no gravity! So instead of the water just falling to the ground and making a puddle on the floor of the ISS, the water starts to make a tube-like shape around the washcloth and Hadfield’s hands, going down as far as his wrists. He goes on to say, that because of the lack of gravity and the surface tension of the water, it just stays there. The washcloth never gets completely wrung out and just floats like a dog’s chew toy, soaking wet, while the water stays on his hands and exhibits the same properties as a gel. He even notes how great a moisturizer it is because of this reaction. And the whole time I’m watching this video, every little thing, from the microphone to the washcloth to the experiment itself is just blowing my mind. I cannot believe that stuff like this is actually happening in real life just outside of our atmosphere. When you stop and think about all of this, it really is a lot to take in.

Now, if you want to become an astronaut, I think it’s fair to say that you would have to be in the ranks of some of the best and brightest people around. It really doesn’t matter what country you’re representing as an astronaut, you really have to be a spectacular person. To give you an example of what I mean, these are the requirements to be a commander or pilot in NASA’s program – and they are pretty standard for the rest of the world as well. These are the bullet points as found on NASA’s website:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. An advanced degree is desirable. Quality of academic preparation is important.
  • At least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Flight test experience is highly desirable.
  • Ability to pass a NASA space physical which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical and includes the following specific standards:
    • Distant visual acuity: 20/100 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20 each eye.
    • Blood pressure: 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
    • Height between 62 and 75 inches.

In other words, not only do you have to be pretty smart to get into the NASA program as a pilot or commander, but also you have to be in tip-top physical shape and be between 5’1” and 6’2”.

But no matter how awesome Commander Hadfield is; no matter how many space experiments this man completes or attempts; no matter how much data he brings back to CSA and NASA, there’s one thing that we need to keep in mind: Chris Hadfield did not get to the International Space Station by himself.

Commander Hadfield is the perfect example of what Paul means when he’s talking about the Body of Christ. “14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” If that foot were not there, the hand would fall. If the ear were not attached to the head, the eye could not gain the entire picture of things. Could you imagine having to rely solely on sight to get around? How would you deal with ambulances, tornadoes, or trains? That wouldn’t work. Paul’s analogy connects everyone to every other person. This body cannot function as a whole without each individual part.

Paul goes on to say, “27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it… 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a more excellent way.” This is Paul telling us that God has given us all gifts. Whether a groundskeeper or doctor or construction worker, we all possess qualities important to the body of Christ. Maybe you’ll be the 2nd grade teacher of the next president. Maybe your stories that you tell your young neighbor will inspire them to open a restaurant that has a social justice mission. We don’t know what our stories will ultimately unfold into, but we do know that we cannot perform the work of the Gospel without one another.

Now, flip back to Commander Hadfield: think about everything it takes to get someone to space. First, someone has to develop the idea of even venturing outside of the Earth’s atmosphere – no doubt an idea that is thousands of years old. Secondly, someone has to develop the plan to actually do that – something people have been attempting for quite some time, but really only became feasible in the last 60 or so years. Next comes building the actual vessel that could take someone there. Then, someone has to teach astronauts how to fly that thing. But who figured out how to teach the astronauts? Who developed the tests that prove they’re physically capable to handle the extreme tests of breaking Earth’s gravity and zero gravity?? Who developed a spacesuit? What about the computers in Florida and Texas??

It’s not like Commander Hadfield woke up one day and had the qualifications to be a CSA space sailor. Who taught him engineering? Who taught him so that he could get into those universities where he learned about engineering? How did his parents inspire him? Did his neighbors ever point him to the heavens? This isn’t a one-man team. There are many parts to this body. And, if I haven’t explained it clearly enough, without one part of this body functioning in just the right way, with just the right circumstances, this body doesn’t function and we never get to see what it’s like to wring out a wet washcloth in space.

The whole point of this part of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is this: We all have a function in this crazy world. And you might not be in the “upper tier” of gifts, whatever that means. But that whole “upper tier” mentality is exactly the thing that is not important. That “top to bottom” system puts us in the place where we would not recognize the gifts that we have and therefore would not embrace our own message of the Gospel. We do not know our exact function, because that might be hidden from us. We might, at times, think that our current track is meaningless and dark and couldn’t be any less significant for the world. But no matter what your current track in life looks like, the rest of the body of Christ cannot function without you. This is why Paul says – and this is the most important section of these verses, so listen up! –, “22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice with it.” Without your significant role in this world, the rest of the world cannot perform or spread the Good News.

Thanks be to God.

Note: I used this video as the Postlude