More missions have been attempted to Mars than to any other place in the Solar System except the Moon, and about half of the attempts have failed. When it is closest to Earth, Mars is about 54 million km away and about 400 million km away when it’s on the other side of the sun, so it’s not an easy target! Many failures have occurred relatively recently, proving again and again that space exploration is very, very difficult.
India recently celebrated becoming the first Asian nation to reach Mars. It did so on a shoestring budget of $74 million, which has rightly boosted its prestige in the global space race. Similarly, but at far greater expense, it is hoped that NASA’s robotic missions can provide valuable data that could be used to launch future human missions to the ‘Red Planet’.
However, Mars is quite near to us compared with ‘outer space’. Even so, spacecraft take at least six months to get there and light from Mars takes about 15 minutes to get to earth. Compare that with the light coming to us from some stars which started its journey to Earth at about the time of the Norman Conquest of Britain, almost 1000 years ago!
With such tremendous distances involved, no wonder it’s so hard to imagine how big the Universe really is. Harder still to try and appreciate the power of the Creator who brought the Universe into existence:
“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, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3 NIV) “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:6 NIV)
Fortunately the Bible helps us get our heads round facts like the tremendous size of the Universe and to understand what they teach us, sometimes by using familiar examples.
While studying the sky made the psalmist marvel at God’s immense power, he also learned to appreciate the nearness of God and his concern for those who seek him and his truth:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3 NIV)
God’s power, clearly seen in the creation of the universe, may be way beyond anything we can really appreciate. Even getting ‘men on Mars’ may be beyond the ability of any scientist to achieve, given the immense effort and distance involved. It is seriously questioned whether anyone going on such a mission would be able to endure such a long journey.
But in the Bible we are told that God’s power knows no such limits. Controlling the winds and the waves, that make us frightened at times, is well within his ability. And it also says that he is very near to all of us, able and ready to help anyone who trusts him to do so!
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:28-29 NIV)
While none of us will ever go on a ‘mission to Mars’, God has promised that if we respond positively to the ‘good news’ we read about in the Bible by being baptised, all of us can look forward to a time when we will never feel weak and helpless, or suffer the indignity of growing old:
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NIV)
Making that wonderful hope our own should be the ‘mission’ for each of us now!