by David Sisler

Twenty years ago, when theater owners were lining up movies, they used a process called "Blind Bidding." Without ever having seen a piece of film, and based only on the reputation of the director and the actors, and perhaps on the subject matter, they would bid, twelve months in advance, for the right to show a particular film.

In December, 1978, theater owners were offered a science fiction film -- usually a risky undertaking.

Robert Wise, the director, had created, as they say in Tinsel Town, an impressive body of work. In 1961 and again in 1965, he won the Academy Award for best director of two Oscar winning films, "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music." In 1951, he directed "The Day the Earth Stood Still," one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

The actors in the upcoming feature, had appeared in a variety of motion pictures, but none had carried a major project. Indeed, the man who would take the second lead had once appeared in the fascinating, but highly forgettable film, "Zombies of the Stratosphere." But if you owned a chain of theaters, and you wanted "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" to appear in your house in 1979, you were required to bid on it, sight unseen, one year before its release.

The film was not critically acclaimed, but except for the most recent offering ("Star Trek Generations") no movie in series has made more money. And without its financial success, it is logical to assert that there would have been no other enterprises featuring James T. Kirk and his gallant crew.

Blind bidding. Buying a pig in a poke. An unknown risk.

Travel to almost any city in Russia today, and you can walk down Gagarin Street, or relax in Gagarin Park, study at Gagarin Institute, or visit a monument honoring Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. Long after the last monument to V.I. Lenin has been removed (those which honored Marx and Stalin are already gone), Russia will reverence the memory of one of its greatest heroes, the first man to rocket into outer space.

Thirty-five years ago, on April 12, 1961, Gagarin was launched into orbit aboard Vostok 1. The four and three-quarter ton spacecraft was aloft for 89 minutes. Gagarin landed to instant worldwide fame. In every sense of the word, the Soviet Air Force Lieutenant had boldly gone where no man had gone before.

Once a nation that guarded its secrets with national paranoia, Russia has now revealed that ten minutes before Yuri Gagarin landed safely, Vostok 1 was tumbling dangerously out of control, minutes away from disaster. After moments of genuine drama, and concern for the cosmonaut's survival, the spacecraft separated from its malfunctioning braking rockets, and still wobbling, began its descent back into the atmosphere.

Many American space experts believe that if the truth about Gagarin's flight had been known, the American space program would have been altered, the final version very different from what was to be. Government officials who doubted the possibility of success and discounted the potential national benefits might have succeeded in delaying President Kennedy's commitment to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade.

The Redstone rocket which would hurtle Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. into space three weeks later had a habit of blowing up on the launch pad, and the Atlas booster which was to be its successor was still unproven. Ohio Senator John Glenn, who, in 1962, became the first American to orbit the earth said, "If something like that had been known, it might have played into the hands of the doubters."

A full revelation of the facts would have changed history. The risks were not completely spelled out in advance.

Blind bidding. A pig in a poke.

Pastor Ben Haden tells the story of a woman, who under unlikely circumstances, went to her knees and claimed Jesus Christ. Later as they were talking, the woman casually mentioned a man with whom she had been living for almost a decade.

"Do you plan to marry him?" the pastor asked.

"Oh, no, we will continue to live together."

"According to God's Word, you can no longer live with that man."

"I did not know that before. If I had known, I might not have knelt," she said.

"Well," Ben said, "you know now. Do you want to unkneel."

The Soviets, rightly or wrongly, hid the full account of Yuri Gagarin's historical flight for over three decades. If you had been contemplating strapping yourself on top of tons of high explosives, you would have wanted to know every possible detail, every potential danger. Wouldn't you?

God spells it out in advance. There is no blind bidding. You do not buy a pig in a poke. To follow Jesus Christ will cost you everything, including your life. Now that you know that, do you still want to follow him? Or, knowing, do you wish to unkneel?


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/20/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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