On this date, in 1979, The United States' first space station, Skylab, tumbled out of its orbit and disintegrated in the earth's atmosphere near Perth, Australia.
We had already demonstrated our space travel superiority over the Soviets by landing men on the moon and returning them safely to earth nearly eight times over a ten year period, and it seemed that there was nothing that could keep up us from setting up a permanent station in orbit around the earth, then one on the moon and from thence, beyond into the rest of the solar system. It was a heady time to be a NASA groupie, to be sure.
But then, after only six years in orbit and a cost of over $2 billion, on July 11, 1979, the once proud achievement became only so much space junk that was discarded and allowed to crash ignominiously back to earth.
When I saw that the anniversary of its fiery death was approaching, I began to reflect on the story of the Tower of Babel as told in Genesis 11:1-9 (NIV):
"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth."
Now, let me be very clear: I am in no way suggesting that the destruction of Skylab and the Tower of Babel are the same in terms of epic impact on the human race. After, all, less than twenty years later we launched the next attempt, the International Space Station, or ISS.
But I think its instructive for us to pause and consider that often we initiate these big, technological achievements and forget that it is only by the grace of God that anything succeeds at all. Often, we think it is all us. We are the masters of our destiny. We are as powerful as God Himself. Until something happens that we can't fix, that our ingenuity didn't account for or know to correct or avoid.
We would do well to remember that while our God has given us intellect, wisdom, and the ability to do some pretty awesome things, He still wants us to choose to love Him, to obey Him and to be dependent on Him. To do otherwise invites our own technological marvels to flame out.