Thursday, April 15

Virgen de Luna: A small town in Córdoba and NASA, united through a brotherhood | Science


Image of the Virgen de Luna next to the signed photo of the three astronauts who traveled on Apollo XI
Image of the Virgen de Luna next to the signed photo of the three astronauts who traveled on Apollo XI

Faith and science have had numerous frictions throughout history. However, the secretary of the Cofradía de la Virgen de Luna managed to unite Pozoblanco and Villanueva de Córdoba forever with NASA, the largest of the space agencies. Felipe Sánchez Urbano, one of the top leaders of the Brotherhood in the 60s and 70s, took advantage of the name of the patron saint of both municipalities to get the astronauts of the Apolo 17 a little picture of the Virgin of Luna to protect them on their difficult journey. Now NASA has recognized and integrated into its history this relationship by letter that they maintained from a small town in southern Spain with the protagonists of the first moon landing back in 1969.

It all began on July 30 of that year, with three short letters from Sánchez Urbano in which he congratulated Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, the three occupants of the Apolo 11, the first manned mission to reach the Moon. In the letters, the secretary applauded “effusively” their deed and presented them with an image of the patron saint of Pozoblanco and Villanueva de Córdoba (17,000 and 16,000 inhabitants, respectively). After their return to Earth, the three space explorers began an international tour that took them to Spain in early October 1969. A couple of days before landing on the Peninsula, Sánchez Urbano invited the astronauts by letter to visit the town and the sanctuary, although they never set foot in Córdoba due to their busy schedule.

As a thank you, the crew of the Apolo 11 They sent a signed photograph that today is still preserved in the archives of the Brotherhood. A copy of this image is exposed at the feet of the Virgen de Luna, in a small 15th century hermitage built halfway between the two Cordovan municipalities.

Felipe Sánchez Urbano (center of the image) walks in procession with the Virgen de Luna in the 70s.
Felipe Sánchez Urbano (center of the image) walks in procession with the Virgen de Luna in the 70s.

In that mission, Spain played a fundamental role, since the NASA bases in Robledo de Chavela, Fresnedillas (both in Madrid) and Maspalomas (Canary Islands) served as a base to establish communication between Houston and the ship. Even Armstrong himself recognized it during his visit to Spain: “Without Spanish participation, this mission would not have been possible.” Carlos González Pintado, at that time Chief of Operations and deputy director of the Robledo Space Communications Complex, recalls that moment: “When the Apolo 11 it landed on the moon and Armstrong said that phrase of ‘Houston, this is the Tranquility base. The Eagle has landed ‘, I heard it half a second before the rest of the world ”. Pozoblanco’s role, however, was different. “It is a fact apart from what was the scientific and technological exploration, but in some way it was also part of the Spanish cooperation. It was even more romantic, ”says González Pintado.

At that time, the anecdote went unnoticed. “It is something that the Brotherhood did at its own risk and expense. They did not want to give the issue notoriety, nor did they make any propaganda ”, recalls González. But a few years ago, as a result of the push of Professor Herminio Rodríguez Pozo, it began to investigate how it happened and the documents that were sent from the Brotherhood and those that were received at NASA were collated.

Rodríguez Pozo works in a school in Guillena (Seville), although his wife is from Pozoblanco. He does not belong to the Brotherhood, but he learned the story thanks to his father-in-law and brother-in-law and he understood that he should make himself known. Since then he has moved heaven and earth for NASA to include these events as part of the first moon landing. “It is a pride that a story of this type is in the archives of NASA. It is a piece of history from which we have to take heart ”, acknowledges the teacher.

In some way it was also part of the Spanish cooperation. It was more romantic even

Carlos González Painted

Anthony Carro, director of NASA in Spain, affirms that the cooperation between Spain and the agency predates the Apollo program and is still being maintained. “The NASA History department recently highlighted this cooperation and, in particular, mentioned the letters exchanged by Felipe Sánchez Urbano, from the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Moon, with the astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins from the Apolo 11. NASA appreciates this close cooperation with Spain in space exploration and research for the benefit of Humanity, ”Carro said in a press release.

On some occasions it has been rumored and even published that the prints of the Virgin delivered by Sánchez Urbano reached the Moon, something that NASA has never officially recognized. The master rules out that these images accompanied the crew of the Apolo 11: “They could not arrive, because the dates of the letters do not match those of the trip.” However, he is more conservative when asked if they were able to travel with the successive missions: “With the Apolo 17, NASA in Spain appreciates that the Brotherhood has sent some pictures of the Virgin to the astronauts. Officially, they came to the crew. That they will take them later [a la Luna] it is very difficult to know. It is true that many astronauts carried personal material, but there is nothing official, ”he acknowledges by phone.

Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin in a photo dedicated to the Brotherhood of the Virgen de Luna
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin in a photo dedicated to the Brotherhood of the Virgen de Luna

Rodríguez Pozo assures that he has pending to receive a visit in 2022 (whenever the situation allows it) from Adriana Ocampo, director of NASA’s science program and one of the most influential scientists today, with whom he exchanges messages with some frequency. The Colombian director has even promised to deliver one of the 500 seeds that traveled aboard the Apolo 14.

“The circle is already closed. Now this story belongs to the people, to the region, to Andalusia, and it is up to everyone who welcomes it to spread and perpetuate it, because this does not only belong to Pozoblanco, ”says Herminio.

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