Book Review #2 To Rule the Night by James Irwin
Book Review #2 To Rule the Night by James Irwin
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light
To Rule the Night.
Genesis 1:16 KJV
There was a subtle running gag in the old Batman TV series. It was so understated and underplayed that, as a boy, it went right over my head. Actor Adam West, dressed as giant bat, would slide down his batpole and into his batcave. Along with his sidekick, an enthusiastic and fetching young lad in green speedos and dainty little Peter Pan slippers, he’d jump into a ridiculously outfitted car. The Batmobile was a rolling fire hazard if ever there was one. Flames shot out the tail end as Batman and Robin roared off to fight crime. The funny thing, the joke in all this, was that Batman never had a clue that there was anything odd or outlandish about his behavior. He believed that he was doing what any other civilly minded millionaire would do under similar circumstance. In his mind putting on purple tights to fight the bad guys seemed only natural. To him it made sense.
In the Summer of 1971, as Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Al Worden studied the moon from lunar orbit, mission commander David Scott and LM pilot James Irwin spent three eventful days exploring the Hadley–Apennine region of the moon. Their mission was nothing short of spectacular. Apollo 15 was the first of the Apollo J-missions and the first time anyone had ever driven a vehicle on another world. With the use of their Lunar Rover, an electric-powered jeep like device, the two explorers roamed the moon for miles stopping only to collect samples and make observations. The scientific and technical returns were enormous. This wasn’t flying to the moon for national prestige. It was interplanetary exploration of the highest order and anyone with a TV could feel a part of it. The astronauts beamed back live color coverage that was crisp and clear. It was grand.
After returning to Earth what did Jim Irwin do for a second act? Did he run for political office as did John Glenn? Did he become and airline CEO like Frank Borman? Did he teach at a university like Neil Armstrong? No, nothing so prosaic. Instead Jim Irwin went in search of Noah’s Ark. Yes I said Noah’s Ark. And just like Batman, Irwin didn’t consider his actions to be in any way remarkable. He saw his quest as just the sort of thing any former astronaut might do.
Irwin, as you may suspect, was a biblical literalist. He believed every word in the bible to be true; indisputably true. True without resorting to allegory or scholarly interpretations thank you very much. As with other biblical literalists he was also a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Irwin believed that God created the universe, pretty much as we see today, in just six literal days of twenty-four hours each and all this happened around about six thousand years ago. To be exact the Earth was created on October 22, 4004 BC at exactly 4:30 in the afternoon. That was on the Julian calendar of course.
Irwin also believed that, resting somewhere on Mount Ararat, was Noah’s Ark just waiting to be discovered. This was the same Jim Irwin who, while exploring the moon, discovered the four billion year old Genesis Rock. A man who discovered a four billion year old rock and who also believed in a six thousand year old universe? Can we reconcile this obvious cognitive dissonance? I believe we can.
Astronauts, Astrophysicists and Indiana Jones
I once heard of a YEC who just so happened to be an accredited astrophysicist. This YEC/astrophysicist published peer reviewed scientific papers in reputable journals, papers that confirmed the age of our universe at 13.7 billion years. How was this possible? The astrophysicist had a solid understanding of calculus and so he was able to write papers that held up to scrutiny and sold. But he didn’t believe in what he wrote any more then Walt Disney believed in Donald Duck. Just the same, that didn’t stop him from cashing the checks and drawing a salary. Like the rest of us, he had to eat.
Jim Irwin’s belief in a young Earth didn’t hinder his ability to pilot the most advanced aircraft of the day. He became lead test-pilot on the wickedly beautiful, wickedly fast and wickedly wicked YF-12A. The aircraft would later be known as the SR-71, the legendary Blackbird. It was, and continues to be, a pilot’s erotic fantasy. As talented a pilot as Irwin was he had no difficulty learning the systems of the Apollo spacecraft. Mastering the experiments that NASA wanted preformed on the moon didn’t present a challenge either. In short, Astronaut James Irwin was capable of doing his job regardless of his religious beliefs.
I attended several of Irwin’s church appearances and, I must say, he was a supper nice guy. I noticed, however, that he always prefaced his scientific statements with two words; scientists say. Irwin never said, “The Genesis Rock is more than four billion years old.” Instead he would say, “Scientists say that the Genesis Rock is more than four billion years old.” In retrospect I realize that he was covering his bases. Tricky, tricky, tricky! Irwin never claimed to be a scientist and he never challenged the findings of those who were. He accurately related the conclusions of the scientific community even when he wasn’t in agreement with them.
Or perhaps I’m overthinking this. Maybe it isn’t so complicated after all. As a tenured university professor Dr. Indiana Jones went in search of another ark, the Ark of the Covenant. Since Indy never questioned the existence of that other ark it stands to reason that he was a biblical literalist as well. Of course Indiana Jones isn’t real. But real or not I think Irwin should have adopted his style of dress. Anyone who goes searching of a biblical ark, be it Noah’s or the Covenant, should wear a gray fedora hat, distressed A-2 bomber jacket and carry an evil looking bullwhip. Irwin should have known that.
Get Those Animals out on the Arky Arky
The Lord said to Noah: there’s gonna be a floody, floody
Get those children out of the muddy, muddy
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
Build it out of gopher barky, barky
The animals, they came in, they came in by twosie, twosies
Elephants and kangaroosie, roosies
It rained and it rained for forty daysies, daysies
Almost drove those animals crazy, crazy
Then Noah he sent out, he sent out a dovey, dovey
Dovey said “There’s clear skies abovey-bovey”
The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy
Everything was fine and dandy, dandy
The animals came off, came off in threesies, threesies
Must have been the birds and beesies, beesies
Now, this is the end of, the end of my story, story
Everything is hunky dory, dory
But was everything really hunky dory? Was it even close to being hunky dory? Irwin wrote several books about his multiple unsuccessful expeditions to Mt. Ararat. From them I realized that amateur archaeology can be quite dangerous. Irwin was shot at, kidnapped, had a tent burn down and suffered near fatal injuries in a fall. You can find his other books on amazon.com.
I’ve read them all and found then rather disappointing. They didn’t answer the deeper questions. Irwin believed that the Ark existed but in what condition did he expect to find it? Did he believe that it would be perfectly preserved and intact like King Tut’s tomb? Or was he expecting to find only broken fragments? Did he expect to find fossilized remains of kangaroos and penguins, sloths, and star-nosed moles, orangutans and vampire bats? He didn’t say.
But beyond all that what were Irwin’s thoughts about Noah the man? The bible states that Noah was six hundred the year of the flood. Six hundred years old! What was he doing with all that time; herding goats? If Noah spent six centuries preaching his efforts were wasted as the only people he was able to convince of the coming flood were the members of his immediate family. Did Noah spend the time on personal development? Judging by his behavior it doesn’t seem likely. In the years just following the flood Noah hit the bottle like a frat boy on spring break and, like a frat boy, he passed out naked in a drunken stupor. Upon awakening he flew into a rage when he discovered that his son Ham had seen his privates. A vengeful Noah cursed Ham and Ham’s unborn descendants. Excuse me but who was the drunk in this story? Who was the person who couldn’t hold his liquor? It was Noah. But Noah’s propensity for the wild party lifestyle didn’t have any ill effect on his health. He lived to the ripe old age of 950. 950 years old! I once asked an evangelist if he didn’t find this number staggering. Without batting an eye, or the slightest trace of irony, the evangelist replied that 950 wasn’t so remarkable when you considered that Methuselah lived to the age of 969.
As noted before, Apollo 15 was a magnificent success. Unfortunately, and seemingly overnight, the goodwill the mission generated all came crashing down and the crash was very hard indeed. The Apollo 15 postage stamp sandal is a Gordian Knot. All three Apollo 15 crewmembers, as well as Deke Slayton, have written about it in their respective autobiographies and all four tell substantially different stories. We’ll never know what really happened, but out of the four narratives my intuition is that Al Worden’s account is by far the closest to the truth and that David Scott’s is the most unreliable. Worden was the only crewmember who was willing to accept responsibility, the only one who didn’t try to rationalize or minimize the incident. Scott said he was the victim of a witch-hunt.
I’ll attempt to piece together this confusing puzzle as best I can. There were two, or perhaps three, disreputable West German stamp dealers. Irwin mentioned only one, Horst (Walter) Eiermann. However the names F. Herrick Herrick and Hermann Sieger also enter into this woe-begotten tale of intrigue and betrayal. Five or six weeks prior to the launch of Apollo 15 the crew had dinner at the house of F. Herrick Herrick and a deal was struck. Herrick, Eiermann and Sieger, aka the Germans, would provide the crew 400 postal covers, standard letter sized mailing envelopes embellished with the Apollo 15 mission emblem and festooned with several space themed US postage stamps. The covers would be onionskin and pressure-packed into a small and manageable package. Mission commander David Scott would carry this unauthorized and, unknown to NASA, package to the surface of moon and back again in the leg pouch of his Apollo spacesuit. On the return flight to Earth the three members of the crew would cancel (that is to say stamp) and sign the covers thus establishing authenticity. After splashdown the crew would give the Germans 100 covers (one out of every four) in exchange for $7,000 dollars for each crewmember. Irwin wrote that the payoff was $8,000 each but I believe the smaller number is more accurate. Thus the Apollo 15 crew would be selling the Germans 100 covers for $210 each. That was quite a bargain when you consider the price of transporting even a single ounce to the moon and back. The Germans all gave their solemn word of honor that they’d wait until after the end of the Apollo program to offer their 100 covers for sale. They also promised that the sales would be very low profile, very hush hush and a very private sort of thing. The covers wouldn’t be advertised or offered at public auctions. If chief astronaut Deke Slayton found out about this it would be too late for him to take action. By that time the crew would’ve retired from the program and would therefore be free from any reprisals from Deke or NASA. It was a perfect little plan to turn a tidy little profit.
The Obvious Question
Any student of spaceflight history knows that NASA astronauts have a well established way of doing things. If you were a astronaut preparing for a mission and a friend went out of his way to grant you a favor you’d be expected to add his name to your guest list. NASA would mail your friend an invitation to the launch and assigned a protocol officer for a personally conducted tour of the Cape. This is all completely aboveboard and legitimate. The obvious question was, why did the crew of Apollo 15 sell the Germans 100 postal covers? Why not simply take the postal covers as a gift, say thank you very much, and add the Germans to the guest list? There’d be no problem with that. And if anyone asked why the covers weren’t listed on the flight manifest the answer would’ve been simple. It was an innocent oversight. Once again, no problem.
Here’s another question. Why not cut the Germans out of the deal entirely? The 15 crew could’ve supplied their own pressure packed package of postal covers. All they needed to do was stop by the corner drugstore and buy the envelopes and from there a visit to the postoffice for the postage stamps. But without the Germans the crew would’ve had to wait three, perhaps even four, years before seeing any return on their investment. The beauty of including the Germans was that each crewmember would receive seven grand almost immediately. What could go wrong?
Apollo 15 splashed down on August 7th 1971. The Germans took possession of their 100 covers in September and two weeks later the crew was paid $7,000 each. By the beginning of October, just two months after splashdown, the covers were being offered for sale. Of course all sales were private and the covers were offered to only the most discerning and discreet collectors.
The Stuff Hits the Fan
Before long Deke Slayton’s office in Houston was receiving transatlantic phone calls. Stamp collectors in Germany were asking for Deke assurance that the flown Apollo 15 covers were genuine. Deke, who’s trust in the 15 crew was absolute, got on the phone and personally told the collectors that the covers were fraudulent and implored them in the strongest possible terms not to waste their hard earned money on bogus space collectables. During the phone calls a name came up, Hermann Sieger. Deke warned the 15 crew that a crook named Sieger was selling counterfeit Apollo 15 postal covers. At this point the crew came clean. They admitted that Sieger was a business partner and that the postal covers had been taken, well actually smuggled, to the moon. But they hastened to add that Deke wasn’t suppose to know about any of this until much later, years later. Why that no good double-dealing Sieger! He hadn’t held up his end of the bargain! How do you like that?
Deke Slayton had hand selected each man for the Apollo 15 crew. He oversaw their training and he put their safety above all other concerns. On that point he’d never been willing to compromise. He’d thought of the crew not so much as subordinates but as family. Deke considered the scandal a personal betrayal and he was a deeply anguished. Friendships were destroyed.
Here I can’t help but draw a comparison between Jim Irwin and Al Worden. To the deeply religious Irwin the postal cover scandal was like water off a duck’s back. It just rolled right off him. Irwin’s life moved on without so much as a hiccup. But the skeptical Worden was racked with guilt and spent decades trying to redeem himself to those he felt he had wronged. What I find most troubling about the postal covers is this. After retuning from the moon the message Jim Irwin wanted to share with everyone was simply to put your trust in Jesus. That was it. Just trust Jesus. But Irwin himself was so easily deceived by unscrupulous individuals intent in profiting from his willingness to bend the rules and profit they did. The Apollo 15 crew returned the $21,000 they had received from the German. But NASA wasn’t able to recover those 100 covers. So, in the end, the Germans got their postal covers for free. One of those covers sold in 2014 for over $55,000. Gott im Himmel!
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
To Rule the Night ends on an unpleasant note, one that left a bad taste in my mouth. We see a full page photograph of Jim Irwin smiling as renowned antigay activist Anita Bryant favors him with a adoring gaze. The two look quite chummy. For those too young to remember Mrs. Bryant’s catchphrase was, “Save our Children,” as in save our children from homosexuals. She was pushing for legislation that would’ve kept gays out of the classroom, away from children and out of any position of respect or responsibility. Bryant famously said that, as a Christian, she loved gays. She loved gays so much that she even prayed for them. She prayed that they’d stop being gay!
So what are we to make of the inclusion of this photograph? Is it a tip-the-hat to homophobes? I can’t imagine any other interpretation. Irwin didn’t believe in just the Ark alone. He also believed in Hell. He believed in Hell as a real place, a place of eternal and everlasting punishment for all the tortured and anguished individuals that didn’t accept Jesus. This presents me with a dilemma, my own personal cognitive dissonance. How can any truly kind and compassionate person believe in unending punishment?