Sam's Life

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I invite NASA to visit Saudi Arabia!

Mars landscape

Martian landscape looking eerily like that of the Arabian Desert.

The NASA rover Curiosity landed safely in the Gale Crater on August 00000

The NASA rover Curiosity landed safely in the Gale Crater on August 2012.

I just can’t help wondering about the universe

You ask, “What in the world? Sam, why are you desk-bound in Saudi Arabia mesmerizing about NASA and the universe? …and God?”

So, I confess. I’m a space buff—have been since 1970. That’s when I took a course in astronomy at Shelton College.

During the past month I’ve been closely following NASA’s Curiosity landing. What an incredible accomplishment—an SUV-sized rover that travelled three-and-a-half months to the red planet, descended like a fire ball through the atmosphere during what NASA called “seven minutes of terror” and then parachuted to the martian surface landing at nearly pinpoint accuracy in the Gale Crater.

NASA studies Mexican desert

Curiosity carries the biggest, most advanced suite of scientific instruments ever sent to Mars. The rover will analyze organic samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. According to NASA scientists, the record of the planet’s climate and geology is essentially “written in the rocks and soil.” The rover is looking for the chemical building blocks of life (e.g. forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in aeons past.

Now studying the planet Mars, one might think, means travelling there or exploring only by means of satellites, landings and robots, but that’s not the case. NASA has a Mars research program going on in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, where the vast, scorching plain is said to be very much like ancient Mars.

The NASA scientists working in this largely arid and extremely hostile climate are looking for organisms able to survive on a minimum of nutrients, high salinity, soaring temperatures and high ultraviolet radiation.

My invitation to NASA

After hearing that, I say, “NASA, come to Saudi Arabia! I have something to show you here!”

Take a look at the following photo and the photo (inset) that was beamed back from Curiosity to the NASA Mission Control Center in Pasadena, California. It arrived just a couple of days ago. You’ll recognize the incredible similarities between the Arabian desert and Mars’ Gale Crater—pink reddish sand and dust with black volcanic formations and scattered stones. The Saudi mountains and desert landscapes look weirdly similar to the Martian plains and mountains.

Sam in full Saudi costume standing in the Arabian Desert near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The photo inset shows a Curiosity photo of the martian desert taken from the Gale Crater.  The similarities are striking. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Here in Saudi Arabia the desert temperatures and climatic conditions are even more radical than those of the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico. Temperatures sometimes sore to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, yet there still exists various forms of life in this grueling climate, including the infamous, giant camel spiders!

Some spiritual dimensions

Sam is proud of America’s accomplishments in space. This is his friend Astronaut Charlie Duke during Charlie’s 1972 Apollo 16 moon walk. Charlie was the 11th man to walk on the moon. Sam spent time with Charlie and his wife Dottie at their home in New Braunsville, Texas.

All the holy books of the Jews, Christians and Muslims have a lot to say about the universe. The prophet David wrote in the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3 and 4). And in the Qur’an we read, “Consider (think about) the sky that is full of great constellations” (85:1).

I like gazing up into the Saudi night skies. The stars, planets and moon seem brighter than back home, and the sun appears twice as big as it sets over the Red Sea in the evening sky. By faith I stand in awe of God who is at this very moment millions of light years away among the galaxies, and at this same moment He is also here and is concerned about the plight of the men, women and children of earth.

We are taught in the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospels that we humans were created to fellowship with this God (Allah)—to glorify God—to enjoy God forever. Unfathomable! The wonder of it all!

The words of and old Swedish hymn come to mind, one we often sang when I was a child at my local Georgia church. It’s the famous, hymn many will recognize–“How Great Thou Art.” Here’s the first verse and chorus that seem appropriate:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Yes, Eternal God of the heavens, how great thou art! (Incidentally, we often hear Muslims proclaim in their mosques or in daily life the words “Allah akbar,” meaning “God is great!” Also, remember the prayer we were taught as children–a grace we said before the family meal, “God is great. God is good. And we thank him for our food.” The Arabic equivalent of “God is great” is “Allah akbar”!)

Cosmology argues the existence of a divine, grand Creator

Plato and other ancient philosophers developed the cosmological argument for the existence of a divine Creator.

When we gaze into the night sky, beholding the cosmos of space, how can we not consider God’s existence and his greatness?

The “cosmological argument” for God’s existence derives its title from observing what we can see of the world around us. It begins with what is most obvious to us–the fact that things exist. It is then argued that the cause of those things’ existence had to be a “God-type” being–a Creator.

Beginning with Plato, these types of arguments have been put forth by renowned theologians and philosophers. And almost in reverse order of what one might expect, science seeminly caught up with theologians in the 20th century when it was confirmed that the universe had to have had a beginning.

In 1912, the American astronomer, Vesto Slipher, made a discovery noticing that the galaxies were moving away from earth at huge velocities.  These observations provided the first evidence supporting the expanding-universe theory.

Then the “Big Bang” was theorized by leading scientists. The theory was originally postulated in the late 1920s by Georges-Henri Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest and astronomer. The theory advanced the concept that our universe was expanding, having originated from one highly super concentrated mass. While the Big Bang theory does not provide any explanation for such an initial condition, it describes and explains the general evolution of the universe from that point forward.

But how did it all start? Do our Abrahamic faiths hold any answers?

The cosmological argument advances that since there was that scientifically accepted beginning, there then had to be a cause.  In the movie Star Wars the cause was called “the Force.” Muslim, Christian and Jewish philosophers of faith agree that the Force is none other than the Eternal One–God (Allah).

There are remarkable statements in the Torah, the New Testament and and the Qur’an that appear to confirm the Big Bang! The first words of Genesis read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the New Testament book of Hebrews, (chapter 11, verse 3), we read these amazing words, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” When reading the Qur’an I came across this amazing verse, “Don’t the unbelievers see that the universe was once joined together, then God burst it apart. God made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?” (21:30).

One of the primary objectives of NASA’s Mars probes has long been the search for water on the “Red Planet.” Water, NASA says, contains the building blocks of life.

Update: Curiosity measures wind and radiation

NASA announced November 18, 2012, that, aside from scooping and analyzing Martian soil, Mars rover Curiosity’s measurements of wind and radiation patterns on Mars are helping researchers better understand the environment near the surface of Mars.

Researchers with the Mars Science Laboratory mission have identified transient whirlwinds, mapped winds in relation to slopes, tracked changes in air pressure, and linked radiation changes to atmospheric changes.  The goal of the mission is to discover whether the environment in Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed earlier this year, could ever have been habitable for microbes.

All praise to God, the Lord of the worlds

Take some time to enjoy this classic National Geographic presentation Journey to the Edge of the Universe. And while watching, think about the words of that great hymn, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made!”


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September 3, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Sam, you have put together a beautiful piece. I hope it will go farther than just an e-mail. Put it onTwitter or something. So glad I know you. Light,Life and Love. Mardy

    Comment by Mardy Burgess | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you, Mardy. Hope to see all my AFM friends soon! ~ Sam

      Comment by Sam Shropshire | September 3, 2012 | Reply


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