That's a picture of an Orthodox Christian priest, blessing the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.
It seems like a weird and outdated pairing: Religion and space exploration. But they're actually a lot more intertwined than you might think, writes Rebecca Rosen at the Atlantic. A lot of astronauts are religious. A lot of astronauts that aren't really religious seem to have an urge to carry the cultural traditions of religion into space. And religion returns the favor. For instance, The Book of Common Prayer now includes an astronaut option in its prayer for travelers: "For those who travel on land, on water, or in the air [or through outer space], let us pray to the Lord."
I'm sorry. I'm an atheist and that just kind of gave me the shivvers. Basically, being out in space, so far from your fellow humans and in such an alien environment, makes for a really good example of the way religion (and ritual) can serve as a tie binding us to the rest of humanity. For some people, it's a connection to a bigger sense of history. And when they look the future (and/or the vast emptiness of space) full in the face, they need that connection to humanity. It doesn't work for everybody. But the relationship between religion and space travel is a good place to start when you want to have a conversation about the fact that there really don't have to be conflicts between religion and science. (Really, people. For serious.)
Here's the scene: It's Christmas Eve, 1968. The spaceship with three men on board had hurtled toward the moon for three days, and they have now finally entered the moon's orbit, a move requiring a maneuver so dicey that just a tiny mistake could have sent the men off into an unwieldy elliptical orbit or crashing to the moon's surface. But all went smoothly, and they are orbiting the moon. On their fourth pass (of 10), astronaut William Anders snaps the famous Earthrise shot that will appear in Life magazine. On their ninth orbit, they begin a broadcast down to Earth. Astronaut Frank Borman introduces the men of the mission, and, then, this:
"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and God said, 'Let there be light," Borman read.
I can't remember who sent this story to me. If it's you, let me know, and I will credit you here!
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.