On this day in 1972, NASA launched Pioneer 10 from Cape Canaveral, its primary mission to gather information on the planet Jupiter. Carried on a three-stage Atlas-Centaur rocket, the nine-foot long spacecraft reached the required speed of over 32,000 miles-per-hour to begin its vast journey, making it the fastest manmade object to depart Earth.
On July 15, Pioneer 10 entered the asteroid belt beyond Mars, where speeding objects range in size from dust specks to planetoids as big as Texas. Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to navigate through this treacherous ring of rock and then picked up speed, racing toward Jupiter at the speed of 82,000 miles-per-hour.
About 16 months after its launch, covering some 620 million miles, the probe sent back spectacular images of Jupiter. On June 13, 1983, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to exit our solar system, bearing toward the constellation Taurus. Good thing that there aren’t any kids on board, because the answer to the “Are we there yet?” question would be depressing. Scientists estimate it will take the spacecraft approximately 2 million years to reach Taurus.
NASA picked up a final signal from Pioneer 10 on January 22, 2003. It was over 7 ½ billion miles from home, a distance so vast that it takes radio signals over 11 hours to reach Earth. Just in case we have any galactic neighbors, the spacecraft bears a golden plaque with an etching of a human male and female, the man raising his hand in a gesture of goodwill. There is also a depiction of our solar system that marks our planet, along with other scientific information.
Pioneer 10 is on a remarkable journey. So are we. Like the tax-collector Matthew, the first step begins by responding to Christ’s call to follow him. The verb literally means “to walk the same path.” Jesus invites us to join his cause and learn by his side.
You may not abandon your career like Matthew did, but all Christians are summoned to move out of their comfort zones to make disciples. Matthew’s adventure inspired him to throw a “salvation party” to which he invited the outcasts of town, with Jesus as the guest of honor. Your call may take you to a church construction site in Africa, a maximum security prison, the bedside of a hospice patient, or a disaster site to offer comfort and provisions. This isn’t just about doing a service project or taking a mission trip – it’s about following Jesus into your call.
I met a woman at a retreat who felt God calling her to begin an equestrian ministry for underprivileged kids. She ran into all kinds of obstacles, but kept following Jesus in faith and obedience. A year or so later, I ran into this same woman at another retreat. Her ministry was still just a dream. On the last day of the retreat, she took a call and came back with joyous news: someone had donated land to her, and on that land was a horse barn with all the gear she needed! Following Jesus can be hard, but in the end, it’s worth the steps we take.
There are also inward journeys to which God calls us. Lent leads us to the Cross, a place of trembling repentance. Easter takes our breath away with the wonder and mystery of resurrection. Along the way, the Holy Spirit will prompt us to lighten our load by dropping a grudge or letting go of a secret sin.
Wherever you go, you can confidently follow Jesus, the wisest guide in the universe and the most perfect traveling companion. There is no place or situation unfamiliar to Him, so you can step out with “blessed assurance.”