The Power to Escape...

When I was in Dr. Frederick Schmidt's freshman chemistry class in college, he taught me something about the explosive nature of hydrogen. Dr. Schmidt was full of innovative and creative ways of keeping us awake in class, and the first day of class, he filled a large balloon with hydrogen and, with a string tied it to the demonstration desk. He then took a lighter on the end of a stick and touched it to the balloon, igniting the hydrogen. The explosion that resulted was amazing. Windows rattled all over the building, and you could feel the concussion of the explosion as the shock wave hit you. From that day on, a balloon of hydrogen was always floating over the desk, and if anyone went to sleep in class, Dr. Schmidt would set off the balloon. It was not long before we students made sure no one went to sleep.

When you look at the cover of our journal for this month, you are looking at a controlled explosion of such proportions that it is hard to visualize just how much energy is involved. There are three engines on the shuttle and one on each booster which produce 4,060,000 pounds, or 2,030 tons, of thrust on the spacecraft; 1,565,000 pounds of hydrogen and oxygen--the same stuff Dr. Schmidt used to jar us out of a slumber-are carried on board to provide the energy. This allows the shuttle to carry 32 1/2 tons of cargo in addition to lifting itself into orbit.

Man has done some incredible things in developing and using power. Realize, however, that man's use of power is microscopic compared to the power in the natural world around us. Our sun generates power that dwarfs all the devices and processes that man has developed. Solar energy reaches our planet at the rate of 5 million horsepower per square mile. People living in New York City would have to pay $400,000 per day to provide the light that comes to them from the sun.*

If you can visualize what the sun does, realize that you have only dealt with a fairly average star--not an excessively large or energetic one. Some stars like Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion are so large that our entire solar system would fit inside them. Some stars can explode in what is called a supernova, and the energy of this process dwarfs the power of the sun.

We marvel at the shuttle and the skill and courage that allows it to work and humans to ride it into space and return to the earth. To accomplish what we have done with the shuttle has taken the best minds and most sophisticated computers we have available.

What kind of a mind has it taken to design the sun--a furnace made of its own fuel that can run for literally millions of years and not run out of fuel. How vast must the original energy source have been to produce the cosmos? Man's accomplishments in space and technology are amazing, but in all cases they allow us to understand that a wonder-working hand of incredible power has gone before.

                            --John N. Clayton

*Friedman, Herbert, The Amazing Universe, National Geographic Society, l975, page 50.

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Jan/Feb 97