USA (MNN) — Proving that space flight is not the highest calling for a pilot, astronaut Patrick Forrester is taking a bit of missionary history onboard space shuttle "Discovery."
The shuttle was supposed to have lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in the early morning hours of August 25. But that's been tentatively rescheduled for August 28 because of a suspected faulty hydrogen valve. The aim of the two-week orbital mission is to equip the International Space Station.
The piece of missionary history comes from martyred missionary pilot Nate Saint's Piper PA-14, which is on display at the headquarters of MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) in Nampa, Idaho. Saint and four other missionaries were martyred on a sandbar in Ecuador on Jan. 8, 1956, by a tribe of Waodani Indians.
The incident sparked international news coverage and renewed interest in missionary service. Several of the tribesmen that killed Saint and the others were later converted to Christianity by relatives of the slain missionaries.
"Bringing attention to and renewing interest in missions would be a great result of this experience," said Forrester, who was born in El Paso, Texas, the year after the killings took place. "My deepest intent is to honor Nate Saint, the Saint family, and all missionaries around the world."
The piece aboard the shuttle is from the Piper's battery box and has received approval for the flight from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after conforming to strict size and weight restrictions.
Forrester, who will be making his third shuttle flight, has logged more than 4,500 hours in more than 50 different aircraft and has been with NASA 16 years. In addition to his time at NASA, he spent over 26 years as an Army aviator. Yet his dream has been to assist with the high calling of missionary aviation.
"I've always had a heart for missions," Forrester said. "When I visualize what I might do after I end my career at NASA, always in the back of my mind is going into the mission field in some way. If I could go tomorrow and be a pilot with an organization like MAF, I think that's what I'd do."
Whether you are an astronaut, a missionary or have another vocation, Forrester has a simple approach to discovering what career journey you should take. "There are so many needs out there," Forrester said. "People need to figure out where their passion and their talents intersect with God's plan for the world."
Forrester heard about Saint and the other four missionary martyrs while attending a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. "Chapman told the story of the missionaries who had gone down to Ecuador and lost their lives," Forrester recalled. "That story just fascinated me, and through that I heard of the book ‘Through Gates of Splendor.' That's when I really first understood about MAF."
Forrester asked MAF to provide a part of Saint's plane for the shuttle mission. When the mission is completed, Forrester will return the piece to MAF, providing a certificate confirming its presence on the space flight. MAF plans to display the battery box part and certificate at its headquarters. Forrester noted that Saint "could have never imagined that we would have the opportunity to take it to a space station."
As for himself, Forrester sees missions in his career flight plan. "We are all called to serve God in some manner," Forrester said. "I have had the opportunity to participate in several short-term mission trips to Uganda, Canada, Puerto Rico and South Africa. Each time I have developed a heart for the people we served. I believe my wife and I will continue to serve in the mission field for the rest of our lives — whether it is at home or overseas, short-term or full-time."
Founded in the U.S. in 1945, MAF missionary teams of aviation, communications, technology and education specialists overcome barriers in remote areas, transform lives and build God's Kingdom by enabling the work of more than 1,000 organizations in isolated areas of the world (www.maf.org).
With its fleet of 130 bush aircraft, MAF serves in 55 countries, with an average of 242 flights daily across Africa, Asia, Eurasia and Latin America. MAF pilots transport missionaries, medical personnel, medicines and relief supplies, as well as conduct thousands of emergency medical evacuations in remote areas. MAF also provides telecommunications services, such as satellite Internet access, high frequency radios, electronic mail and other wireless systems.