In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Fifty-five years ago — on February 20, 1962 — NASA launched one of the most important flights in American history. On that day, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to circle the globe aboard the Mercury “Friendship 7” spacecraft. NASA's goal was to send a man into earth orbit, observe his reactions, and return him safely to earth.

The mission was a success. John Glenn circled the earth three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. After four hours and 56 minutes, the successful mission concluded with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda. John Glenn was immortalized as a national hero and a symbol of American ambition.

Thirty-two years later, in April 1994, there was another “first” in space when a trio of Catholic astronauts received Holy Communion aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. NASA astronaut Dr. Thomas D. Jones, who flew on four space shuttle missions, is the recipient of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and many other awards. He tells the moving story in his book Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir:

I thanked God each night before falling asleep for these glorious views of Earth and for the success of our mission thus far. I asked for the continued safety of our crew and a joyful reunion with our families. I was conscious of the special gift of each day in space, aware of the unique privilege I had been granted. And I remembered Father Tom Bevan's words on the beach back in Florida. When Sunday rolled around again, two weeks after Easter, it seemed particularly appropriate to share our thanks and thoughts on what we had seen. Sid, [Gutierrez], Kevin [Chilton], and I — all Catholics — gathered on the flight deck one orbital night for a short Communion service.

Kevin, a Eucharistic minister, carried the Blessed Sacrament with him, the hosts protected within a simple golden pyx. The three of us thanked God for the views of His universe, for good companions, and for the success granted our crew so far. Then Kevin shared the Body of Christ with Sid and me, and we floated weightless on the flight deck, silently reflecting on this moment of peace and true communion with Christ.

As we meditated quietly in the darkened cockpit, a dazzling white light burst through space and into the cabin. Pure radiance from the risen sun streamed through Endeavour's forward cockpit windows and bathed us in its warmth. What else could this be but a sign? — God's gentle affirmation of our union with Him. Drifting parallel to the floor, I rolled away from my crewmates, embarrassed at my reaction to that singular sunrise. Through tears I looked instead through the overhead windows at the Pacific below, the dawn painting its surface with a rich, limitless blue.

“Look at that,” I called out almost unconsciously to my friends. From the living water below, we drank in hues unmatched by the palette of any human artist. After a moment, Kevin said simply, “It's the blue of the Virgin's veil, Tom.” He was right. He had found the perfect way to express the vision we were seeing out the window.

Reflecting on that experience in June 2004, Dr. Jones said,

“We are designed to be awed in space. If our imperfect species has found such glimmers of delight in our first tentative encounter with the cosmos, then we have truly found a most caring and generous God.”