On the second day of May in 1961, Alan Shepard was suited-up and standing in a hangar at Cape Canaveral, Florida. His Mercury capsule, Freedom 7, waited for him atop a Redstone rocket. Shepard was ready for this moment. With the launch of Freedom 7, he would become the first American to burst the bonds of earth and travel into space.
Moments passed, the countdown stopped, and history halted at 2 hours and 20 minutes before launch. There was nothing Shepard could do. Weather had moved into the area, scrubbing the mission. Shepard had to return to his home and wait…
Two days later the flight was rescheduled, only to be delayed again for weather. Shepard waited, locked into a holding pattern that he could not control… (I am sure this is beginning to sound familiar.)
The countdown restarted on the evening of May 4th. The night passed; Shepard slept while the clock faithfully counted the moments until launch. As the sun moved toward the horizon at 5:15 a.m. on May 5th, Shepard climbed into the cramped Freedom 7 capsule and the door was bolted shut. In the capsule, he was now 80 feet closer to reaching space than he was a few days ago. Yet, Shepard was still waiting to become the first American to cross the atmosphere’s thin blue line.
The clock continued mark the second until liftoff. The Redstone’s engine was scheduled to fire at 7:20 a.m., about two hours after Shepard had entered Freedom 7. The entire flight was to last fifteen minutes, and these last few hours were needed to complete checklists and recheck systems. I am sure there was a lot to do as he waited, but I wonder if he had one, cautious eye on the clock. Until the clock read zero, there was always the threat of another pause, another delay.
After nearly two hours of facing the sky above, and with only fifteen minutes remaining in the countdown, the clock stopped. Passing clouds and a mechanical repair were the cause of another hold. This would not be the last time the countdown was halted. Computers needed to be rebooted in Washington, there was a pressure spike and the coffee Shepard had for breakfast was causing some uncomfortable complications. Time passed, the clock held and Shepard remained tightly strapped into his seat aboard Freedom 7. His eyes peered into the blue sky as seagulls mockingly circled above him.
Unfortunately, for the last several weeks, our couches have a become our capsules. Today, the skies are clear, the winds are calm, trees are budding, and flowers are bursting with color. Yet, as we look out the window at the blue sky, we face another delay. Another hold. Another unexpected problem. Another voice crackling over the radio telling us it will be just a little longer. The countdown to our future and our Freedom has been put on hold. Meanwhile, the birds continue to circle outside the window, enjoying the day.
But waiting does not mean that we stop watching. These days and moments are not to be wasted idly waiting to be told that we are free again, nurturing our growing frustration or allowing our minds to drift behind digital screens. We can be watching and working for our future. Watching implies that we can determine our direction. Watching means that we will look toward the horizon with hope and purpose. Watching means that will actively work to make today better than yesterday for those around us. We will refuse to simply wait for others to decide how we handle the moments God has given to us. As Americans, we value the freedom to choose, to set our own course. We must remember that freedom is costly and should not be relinquished lightly.
After four hours of holds and delays, Shepard pressed the intercom and finally barked out the immortal words that launched the United States space program, “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?” With that courageous reminder, at 9:34 a.m., Freedom 7 finally lifted off. Finally, free.
2 Timothy 1:7