NASA and the Missing Day in Time

False rumor purports that the space agency confirmed the urban legend

View of the sun, Earth, and moon as seen from space.

Comfreak/Pixabay

An urban legend asks readers to believe that NASA scientists inadvertently proved that the Biblical account of God making the sun stand still for a day actually happened as described. The rumor has been circulating since the 1930s. What are the details behind the rumor, what do people say about it, and what are the facts of the matter?

Harold Hill, NASA, and the Rumor

This urban legend has been on the internet since at least 1999. Here's an example of the way the story is typically presented:

Did you know that the space program is busy proving that what has been called "myth" in the Bible is true? Mr. Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore, Maryland and a consultant in the space program, relates the following development.

I think one of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at Green Belt, Maryland. They were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space, where they would be 100 years and 1,000 years from now.

We have to know this so we won't send a satellite up and have it bump into something later on its orbits. We have to lay out the orbits in terms of the life of the satellite, and where the planets will be so the whole thing will not bog down. They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results, as compared to the standards.

They called in the service department to check it out and they said "what's wrong?" Well, they found there is a day missing in space in elapsed time. They scratched their heads and tore their hair. There was no answer. Finally, a Christian man on the team said, "You know, one time I was in Sunday School and they talked about the sun standing still."

While they didn't believe him, they didn't have an answer either, so they said "show us." He got a Bible and went back to the book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for any one with "common sense."

There they found the Lord saying to Joshua "fear them not, I have delivered them into thy hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee." Joshua was concerned because he was surrounded by the enemy and if darkness fell they would overpower them.

So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still! That's right: "the sun stood still and the moon stayed — and hasted not to go down about a whole day!" The astronauts and scientists said "there is the missing day!"

They checked the computers going back into the time it was written and found it was close but not close enough. The elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua's day was 23 hours and 20 minutes — not a whole day.

They read the Bible and there it was "about (approximately) a day." These little words in the Bible are important, but they were still in trouble because if you cannot account for 40 minutes you'll still be in trouble 1,000 years from now. Forty minutes had to be found because it can be multiplied many times over in orbits. As the Christian employee thought about it, he remembered somewhere in the Bible where it said the sun went backwards.

The scientists told him he was out of his mind, but they got out the book and read these words in 2 Kings:
"Hezekiah, on his death-bed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die."

Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said 'Do you want the sun to go ahead ten degrees?' Hezekiah said 'it is nothing for the sun to go ahead ten degrees, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.' Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees backward! Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes! Twenty-three hours and 20 minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in 2 Kings make the missing day in the universe!

Analysis

Harold Hill, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, did, indeed, go on to serve as president of the Curtis Engine Company. Hill, who died in 1986, always maintained that his version of the story was true, but his story had glaring similarities with writings from Harry Rimmer. A Presbyterian minister and amateur archaeologist, Rimmer told the same story in his 1936 book "The Harmony of Science and Scripture" — long before NASA was founded in 1958.

Unsurprisingly, Hill, like his predecessor Rimmer, could not document the story. In a form letter he sent out in response to public queries, he claimed to have "misplaced" relevant details, such as names and places. "I can only say," he wrote, "that had I not considered the information to be reliable, I would not have used it in the first place."

NASA Scientists Weigh In

NASA scientists addressed the unreliability of Hill's information from a technical standpoint. A 1997 website feature entitled "Ask an Astrophysicist" essentially dismissed the very premise of the story. The future orbits of the planets aren't calculated by going "back and forth over the centuries" to plot their past positions, they explained.

Scientists calculate the orbit of the planets using simple, highly accurate formulae that can predict any future position of a planet based on its current position. "This calculation would not cover any time before the present, so some missing day many centuries ago, if it had occurred, could not be uncovered with this method," the scientists wrote.

Sources

Boyd, Padi. "Can science confirm the missing day referred to in the Bible?" Library of Past Questions and Answers, Laura Whitlock, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, March 25, 1997.

"Joshua." Holy Bible, New International Version, Bible Gateway.

"2 Kings 20." Holy Bible, New International Version, Bible Gateway.

Rimmer, Harry. "The Harmony Of Science And Scripture." Paperback, Literary Licensing, LLC, July 28, 2012.