The Seeing Eye: Spaceflight as Religious Experience

Kendrick Oliver is Professor of American History at the University of Southampton. He is the author of three books, including To Touch the Face of God: The Sacred, the Profane and the American Space Program, 1957-1975 (2013).

Could spiritual experiences in space be attributed simply to what C.S. Lewis called “the seeing eye”, a pre-existing interest in questions of God and mind? Or did the cosmos work an independent effect upon those who ventured into it? In the 1950s and 1960s, the expectations and/or fears that the early space flights would generate spiritual experience were generally not fulfilled, but for a few astronauts at least, these missions did occasion a sudden profundity of mood. This talk explores the cases of Bill Anders, Russell Schweickart, Edgar Mitchell and James Irwin, and the effects that their experiences in space had upon their subsequent lives and careers.