NASA scientist comes face to face with Creation
CMI’s Dr Robert Carter interviews Dr Henry Richter
Dr Henry Richter is a native of Long Beach, California, and has spent most of his life in that state. The main exception was his service in the US Navy, including a stint on board the USS John A. Bole, a “badly beat up” Sumner-class destroyer, at the tail end of World War II. From his naval career as an electronic technician’s mate, he then went to the California Institute of Technology where he received a BS (1952) and PhD (1956) in chemistry, with physics and electrical engineering minors. He was hired by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) after graduating, just in time for the (literal) launching of the space race when the USSR (the former Russian communist empire) orbited the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I, in 1957.
Henry was picked to oversee the development of America’s first earth satellite, Explorer I. Henry says he lobbied to get Dr James Van Allen’s package (a Geiger counter) on the satellite. This led to the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belts, which influence things from radio communications to the strength of the northern and southern auroras. The results from the Van Allen instrument were at first puzzling, largely because the instrument was saturated with the unexpectedly high levels of radiation surrounding the earth. Also, it was not until Explorer III that they had a tape recording of an entire orbit.
JPL was soon incorporated into a new agency that would grow to be world famous: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Before he left JPL in 1960, he oversaw the development of the scientific instrumentation for the Ranger program. This eventually led to the first successful spacecraft trip to the moon, whereupon it, “ … [purposefully] smashed into it, TV camera and all.” He also worked on the instrumentation for the Mariner program (the first US space missions to Mercury, Venus, and Mars),1 and the Surveyor program (the first spacecraft to perform soft landings on the moon).
After JPL, he became the Vice President of Electro-Optical Systems, then worked as the Development Manager of UCLA’s Mountain Park Research Campus, owned an electronics manufacturing company, then became communications engineer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and finally retired after spending three decades as a communications consultant to fire and police departments.
What a busy life! I asked him if he realized what was happening around him during those pivotal years in the Space Race, but he said, “It was exciting, but it was so busy we could not pay attention to everything going on around us.” As one who grew up in the shadow of the Apollo missions and, later, the Space Shuttle and the Hubble Space Telescope, I can only imagine what it was like to be on the cutting edge of events that would shape the political and scientific world into the distant future.
Yet, Creation Ministries International is also a Bible-based organization, so I turned the conversation to spiritual matters. Henry was blunt about his early years. “I was a busy churchman, but I sure didn’t like the name ‘Christian’. As the chairman of the board of a big, name-brand church, I told them that as long as I was in charge we weren’t going to get one of the born-again Christians here!” It was mainly through the influence of a former secretary (who became his wife), who seemed to have a deeper walk than most ‘religious’ people he knew, that he began to seek answers to the more meaningful questions, finally becoming a born-again Christian himself in 1969. “Yet for a long time I believed that God used evolution to put it all together, but that’s just not possible.”
Happily, one’s Christian walk does not stop at the moment of conversion. Several years later, in 1975, he came across a book (now out of print) by the Institute for Creation Research titled, Origin and Destiny of Earth’s Magnetic Field.2 For someone involved in so much rocket science, this was not an esoteric field! He says he then understood that, if the earth’s magnetic field had decreased 5% in 100 years, this would have all sorts of consequences, including the fact that a stronger magnetic field in the past would have reduced cosmic rays, possibly impacting human lifespans.3
I asked what really convinced him to become a biblical creationist. He replied that he had, “… found a way to put the Bible and the data together.” I quizzed him on the ‘9 Questions’ we use to ascertain if someone is a biblical creationist,4 and he came through with flying colours. Personally, it was a touching testimony to me to hear someone who has operated at his level and who has been through so much science to answer so unhesitatingly in the affirmative questions like, “Do you believe that God created the earth and universe in six ordinary-length (earth-rotation) days?” and “Do you believe Adam and his wife Eve were the literal, historic ancestors of all (other) people who have ever lived?”
When asked what his colleagues thought about his conversion, he said their reactions were mixed but that there were certainly others who shared his views. He then told me about a story (that has been validated by historians) that the first food and drink taken on the moon were some wine and a communion wafer that Buzz Aldrin had taken along with him. Aldrin also read from the Bible some of the words Jesus said at the last supper. Also, the leader of the space program, Wernher von Braun, was a creationist.
Concerning the big bang theory and man’s attempts to explain the universe without a Creator, he said, “The big bang and evolution is one of the biggest adult fairytales I can imagine.” This goes along with his book, The Universe: a surprising cosmological accident, currently under revision.
Dr Richter lives in pleasant retirement with his wife and has 6 surviving children, 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and (at last count) 4 great-great grandchildren. Asked what he would tell the world if he had one last word to say, he wants people “ … to realize God is real, that He created you, that He created us for a purpose, and that we need to spend our lives trying to relate to that purpose.”
References and notes
- The Mariner measurements of the gravitational field of Mercury in 1975, combined with the measured decrease of the earth’s magnetic field over time, allowed Dr Russell Humphreys to predict the rate of decay of Mercury’s field. It was re-measured by the Messenger spacecraft in 2011, and matched Humphreys’ estimate to an impressive degree of accuracy. This stands as a confirmation of the young age of the solar system. See Humphreys, D.R., Mercury’s Magnetic Field is Young! J. Creation 22(3):8–9, 2008. Return to text.
- Barnes, T.G., Origin and Destiny of the Earth’s magnetic field, ICR Tech. Mon. No.4, 1973. For updated argument see Sarfati, J., The earth’s magnetic field: evidence that the earth is young, Creation 20(2):15–17, 1998; creation.com/magfield. Return to text.
- The decrease in lifespans following the Flood was likely caused by the population bottleneck; see Wieland, C., Decreased lifespans: Have we been looking in the right place? J. Creation 8(2):138–141, 1994. Return to text.
- See creation.com/are-you-a-biblical-creationist. Return to text.