Rod Rose and the First Prayer From Space
This excerpt deals with the flight of Apollo 8, carrying the first humans to leave the vicinity of the earth for lunar orbit. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders departed Kennedy Space Center on December 21st, 1968, and arrived at the moon three days later.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Apollo 8 was given a "go" for lunar orbit and passed into radio silence behind the moon, where the spacecraft's main engine would have to fire nearly perfectly to ensure that the crew of Apollo 8 avoided crashing into the moon or flying into a path that would take them away from earth.
If the engine failed to fire at all, Apollo 8 would simply loop around the moon and head back to earth. When Apollo 8 came around the side of the moon on its first orbit, a relieved mission control learned that the engine worked as planned.
After another engine firing to change Apollo 8's orbit at the start of the third orbit, spacecraft commander Frank Borman called to mission control to see if Rod Rose was there.
Rose was expecting the call, because he and Borman had been working on a special task. The men were friends and neighbours in El Lago, the subdivision near the Manned Spacecraft Center. At the local Episcopal Church, St. Christopher's, both were members of the vestry, the group of lay advisors who helped run the church.
At the time of Apollo 8, Rose was 41, a native of Huntingdon, England. As a student in wartime and postwar England, Rose had attended the Manchester College of Technology while serving a five-year apprenticeship at A.V. Roe in Manchester.
Upon graduating from the college and completing his apprenticeship, Rose won a scholarship to the newly established College of Aeronautics at Cranfield, which he attended from 1949 to 1951. He then went to Supermarine, where he worked on aircraft performance, loads and engine performance.
By 1957, Rose concluded that he had gone as far as he could at Supermarine, and he was frustrated by a conservatism in the British aircraft industry that restricted who could supply vital parts and who could do what. After reading in the paper about Avro Canada, Rose crossed the Atlantic with his wife Leila and their two sons, the youngest then just 11 months old, aboard the SS Homeric.
During his 23 months at Avro Canada, he worked as an aerodynamicist on the CF-100 and the Arrow, and also in flight test and in advanced design.
Five years into his career at NASA, he moved to flight operations for Gemini and quickly became a key member of Kraft's team, drawing up the Flight Operations Plans that guided all Apollo missions. Apollo 8, the first mission to travel to the vicinity of the moon, presented a special challenge to Rose and his planning group, a challenge that had been fully met.
Two Sundays before Apollo 8 blasted off, Frank Borman found out that he was on the duty list as a lay reader for the Christmas Eve communion at St. Christopher's.
Borman, knowing that he would be circling the moon at that time, got agreement from the minister, Jim Buckner, that he could deliver his reading from lunar orbit for recording and later playback at the service.
Rose selected for Borman's reading the Prayer For Vision, Faith and Work by G.F. Weld from "Prayers for the Church Service League," published by the Diocese of Massachusetts. Rose gave a copy of the prayer to Borman. "We decided to call it experiment P 1, and Frank agreed to give me one lunar orbit notice before he read the prayer so all the recording could be finalized."
A few minutes after Borman's call to Rose, capcom Mike Collins said, "Rod Rose is sitting up in the viewing room. He can hear what you say."
"I wonder if he is ready for experiment P1?" Borman asked.
"He says thumbs up on P1," Collins replied.
"Rod and I got together and I was going to record - say a little prayer for our church service tonight," Borman said. When Collins gave the go-ahead, Apollo 8's commander continued, "Okay. This is to Rod Rose and people at St. Christopher's, actually to people everywhere.
"Give us, O God, the vision which can see Thy love in the world in spite of human failure. Give us the faith, the trust, the goodness in spite of all of our ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts, and show us what each of us can do to set forth the day of universal peace. Amen."
"Amen," Collins replied.
"I was supposed to lay read tonight and I couldn't quite make it," Borman concluded.
"Roger, I think they understand," Collins said.
This was the first prayer broadcast from space. That evening, the crew of Apollo 8 sent their second television broadcast from lunar orbit, showing views of the earth and the lunar surface. As the broadcast neared its end, first Bill Anders, then Jim Lovell, and finally Borman read the first 10 verses of Genesis as the grey, battered surface at lunar sunset appeared on the television picture.
"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you Ð all of you on the good earth," Borman said, concluding both the reading and the broadcast.
Rose went to St. Christopher's with tapes of both the prayer that Borman had recorded that morning and the Genesis reading, and both were played at the service.
While the service was going on, Apollo 8 went behind the moon again at the end of its 10th orbit, and the spacecraft engine fired its critical burn to put Apollo 8 on its way back to what Borman had memorably called the good earth. Rose had arranged to get a phone call at the church when Lovell confirmed to the world that Apollo 8 had left lunar orbit and was homeward bound.
"They did that when Jim Lovell made his famous statement, there is a Santa Claus, and the timing was beautiful, because we could give that to the minister just as he was giving his final dismissal to the congregation," Rose said. "That was a great way to start Christmas Day."
Two days later, Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, completing one of the most historic and memorable space flights ever.
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