John Glenn will be remembered as the first American to orbit the Earth, back in February, 1962. Scott Carpenter, who died on October 10, was his NASA ground-communicator. He himself was later to chalk up three orbits, but is remembered for his historic “Godspeed, John Glenn”.
The expression goes back to Middle English, where “speed” also meant “success”, “prosperity”. It is still an elegant, somewhat antiquated, way of wishing a voyager God’s blessing, a believer’s “Bon voyage !”
One would have to have a mean, atheist streak to suggest another understanding of the phrase. “Speed”, in the drug-culture, is methamphetamine. “God”, in the atheist-culture, is a drug for believers, as religion is the opium of the people. I just couldn’t resist making the connection. Nasty of me, really, to spoil a harmless, beautiful sentiment. The Devil made me do it.
P.S. There is a bookshop in Paris, and another in Hendaye, called “Ulysse”, first of their kind in the world, dedicated to all sorts of books on travel. It was in the Basque city’s branch that I discovered the works of Pierre Loti, renowned world traveler and prodigious author, who inspired no less than two recent items on this blog. I will recommend to the founder-proprietor, Catherine Domain, that she put up a “GOD SPEED” shingle over the entrance of both of her stores.