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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Moon, the Masons, and Tranquility Lodge


July 20th will mark the 50th anniversary of the day when two men altered human history by leaving their footprints on another world, 293,000 miles away in space, while a third man orbited over their heads awaiting their safe return. And in Waco, Texas, a group of Freemasons will have special reason to mark the occasion.



While the members of Tranquility Lodge No. 2000 will be reliving and celebrating the historic Apollo 11 Moon mission this week, in reality they are just biding their time. Like all of us who were young kids in 1969 watching blurry black and white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon on our flickering Zenith console TV sets, the brethren who formed Tranquility Lodge knew in their hearts that by now, they were supposed to be holding their stated meetings on the Moon, and not in Waco. That's what we were all promised — that getting back and forth to our permanent Moonbase in 2019 would be no more of a pain in the butt than flying to Cleveland. Or maybe a little tougher, like LaGuardia. By now, a Moon stopover on the Pan Am Lunar Clipper would just be part of the regular Mars trips and the Jupiter fly-bys, like stopping to see Mount Rushmore while driving to California. So a 2019 Tranquility Lodge meeting would just be a little bit special, much like making a trip to London or Scotland for a special Masonic meeting was in 1969.

But no, they're still meeting in Waco. 

For those who don't know, Tranquility Lodge was chartered as a special lodge in the year 2000 to commemorate Texas Freemason Buzz Aldrin's trip to the Moon as pilot of the Apollo XI Lunar Module, the Eagle, with Mission Commander Neil Armstrong. The motivation behind the lodge was that Aldrin carried with him a Special Deputation from the Grand Lodge of Texas that claimed the Moon to be part of their jurisdiction until such time as a Grand Lodge of the Moon could be created. In addition, he also carried a silk flag for the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction, which is on display today at the House of the Temple in Washington, DC.

From the Tranquility Lodge website:
On July 20, 1969, two American Astronauts landed on the moon of the planet Earth, in an area known as Mare Tranquilitatis , or "Sea of Tranquility". One of those brave men was Brother Edwin Eugene (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr., a member of Clear Lake Lodge No. 1417, AF&AM, Seabrook, Texas. Brother Aldrin carried with him SPECIAL DEPUTATION of then Grand Master J. Guy Smith, constituting and appointing Brother Aldrin as Special Deputy of the Grand Master, granting unto him full power in the premises to represent the Grand Master as such and authorize him to claim Masonic Territorial Jurisdiction for The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, on The Moon, and directed that he make due return of his acts. Brother Aldrin certified that the SPECIAL DEPUTATION was carried by him to the Moon on July 20, 1969.
(snip)
Tranquility Lodge 2000 was Chartered by The Grand Lodge of Texas for the purpose of promoting, encouraging, conducting and fostering the principles of Freemasonry, and to assist in promoting the health, welfare, education and patriotism of children worldwide.
The Grand Lodge of Texas is the first Grand Lodge to have a Member step onto the Moon, Brother Buzz Aldrin, in 1969. Through this event, The Grand Lodge of Texas has Chartered Tranquility Lodge 2000 for the purpose providing Fraternal Assistance to Masonic Organizations and other worthy organizations who help make life better for all living on Earth.
Tranquility Lodge 2000 is based in Texas under auspices of The Grand Lodge of Texas until such time as the Lodge may hold its meetings on the Moon. Our meetings are held quarterly at various cities in Texas, with the annual meeting being held in Waco each July...
For more than you want to know about Tranquility Lodge, there was an excellent article in the Waco Tribune-Herald last weekend.  In the article, it is explained why it wasn't at all strange for astronauts to bring curious items like Masonic flags on their missions into space.


Robert Marshall, manager of Waco Lodge 92, holds the
“special deputation” that Buzz Aldrin carried to the moon.
It was not unusual for astronauts to bring small items into space and present them as souvenirs to civic groups, said Robert Pearlman, a space historian and journalist who was a historical consultant on CNN’s recent “Apollo 11” documentary.

Pearlman said Armstrong and Aldrin both carried flags to the moon that they later shared with the Explorers Club. Aldrin, a Presbyterian elder, also carried the elements to serve communion on the moon lander, he said.

In subsequent missions, Edgar Mitchell brought microfilmed Bibles to the moon, and Charlie Duke would later leave a family photo on the lunar surface.

Space suits had pockets with Velcro patches, but Pearlman suspects Aldrin and Armstrong left most of the souvenir materials in the landing module.

Pearlman has known Aldrin for two decades and created the astronaut’s first website, but he had not heard of the Masonic materials. He said Aldrin is a proud Mason, so it makes sense.

“It is surprising that there’s still stuff to learn about the Apollo mission 50 years later,” he said.
In those days, a surprising number of important figures associated with the NASA manned spaceflight  program were Freemasons. Brother James Edwin Webb was the NASA administrator from 1961-68. Astronauts Edwin E. 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr.; L. Gordon "Gordo" Cooper, Jr.; Donn F. Eisle; Edgar D. Mitchell; Walter M. "Wally" Schirra; Thomas P. Stafford; and Paul J. Weitz. During his Gemini V flight in August 1965, Gordon Cooper carried an official 33° Jewel and a Scottish Rite flag. At the time of his tragic death in the Apollo I fire at Cape Kennedy on January 27, 1967, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom was an Indiana Mason. Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, a manager on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Programs, was a 33° Scottish Rite Mason, and if his name seems familiar, his brother was former Sovereign Grand Commander of the SJ, C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33°. In many ways, Freemasons stood on the cutting edge of what looked like the new Age of Exploration of the universe. They were proud of their membership and they weren't shy about telling anyone.

Tranquility Lodge accepts Masons from all over the world as members, and offers no degrees. They meet quarterly, with their annual meeting every July in Waco, and at various locations during other times of the year.
“We’ve got a real widespread membership — Germany, Japan, Holland,” he said. “We have about 1,200 members. … We have way less members than we’d like. We’d like to have 10,000 members. That would give us an endowment to really be a factor in some charitable efforts.”

The organization raises money for scholarships in science and engineering careers, for science educators and for graduate education related to space and aeronautics. The organization supports the Conrad Foundation, which supports science education in honor of late astronaut Pete Conrad.

“The lodge is designed to do some interesting things, some important things,” said Phil Morehead, an Abilene attorney who is active in the lodge. “We’re hoping to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at the lower level, and we’re hopeful we can find a program we can support in Texas.”
But still... Waco? Not the Moon? In 2019?

It seems that Giant Leaps just don't happen anymore. No one alive then ever dreamed we'd never go back to the Moon after Apollo XVII in 1972Only a dozen humans have ever stepped out of a spacecraft and onto the surface of another world. Two-thirds of them are now dead, although feisty Brother Aldrin is still alive and kicking strong to get us back into space again for real.  NASA and its bloated contractors have now taken longer to develop a new manned space capsule just to get from Florida to the International Space Station than it took to design the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules combined, with a Lunar Module and Moon Buggy thrown in. And those were designed with pencils and slide rules, not computers. Or even so much as a pocket calculator. We're now hitching rides on Russian Soyuz capsules designed 55 years ago. Elon Musk recently tried to send a Tesla to orbit Mars, but I'm guessing that the battery ran down after a few thousand miles with the air conditioning and headlights on. In any case, it missed Mars. Meanwhile, Richard Branson's space tourism rocket plane still hasn't entered service, but its greatest breakthrough is that it will be "carbon neutral." And this took a half century to accomplish.






Back in 1969, Guy Smith, the Texas Grand Master who issued the deputation carried to the Moon by Brother Aldrin, explained why he did it. Smith said that he saw this "Masonic Moon mission" as a gesture toward "Harmony on Earth." He had been a Texas Highway Patrolman, and was described then as "a quiet and modest, but very efficient man." There was an awful lot of talk at that time during the news coverage about peace, and the world, and Mankind as a whole. If you look closely at the Apollo 11 patch that was designed by Michael Collins, it features an American eagle swooping down to the Moon — not with bared talons, but with an olive branch of peace. The plaque left behind affixed to the base of the Lunar Module says, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."


Three years before, the cover of a now-infamous 1966 Time magazine issue had asked "Is God Dead?" and with good reason.



Consider that the Vietnam War was still raging; the Cold War with Russia (that had motivated the Space Race to begin with) was still quite real, and nuclear holocaust was an everyday fear; countless U.S. cities were the scenes of rioting; both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in 1968; the civil rights battles over very real racial segregation remained bloodthirsty; the Six-Day War in the Middle East between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations had happened two years before, setting off decades of ongoing violence; military coups toppled the governments of several nations; India and Pakistan were in a race to build atomic bombs as religious weapons (the Hindu Bomb vs. the Islam Bomb).



But at just about midnight on that Saturday night in July 1969 when Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon, the whole world stopped for a moment, wherever they were, looked up, and realized just how tiny and petty we really were back here on Earth. 



More than 650 million people simultaneously watched and heard Neil Armstrong tell us all that Mankind wasn't really finished after all. There isn't another human achievement in history that so firmly united nearly every single person on Earth in mutual agreement. And wonder. 


That's what was on the mind of Grand Master Guy Smith at the time. “Just as a Mason set foot on the Moon, can’t Masonry help solve some of today’s problems?” Smith asked in his article. “Can’t our teachings of Charity and Brotherly Love be used to lead America out of its current dilemma?”

Maybe it still can. Maybe it can.




So take this opportunity to read about the Moon missions this week, or catch some of the many documentaries that are being run. Consider a membership to Tranquility Lodge. And, if you have a mind to, hoist a toast to three of the bravest explorers the world has ever known: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Brother Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

1 comment:

  1. These specialty lodges have worked well -- in England they to an extent have helped contain the membership loss. The university lodges are a case in point.

    ReplyDelete

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