When Rick D. Husband, commander of the shuttle Columbia, looked out the window of his spacecraft, he saw what he called God's awe-inspiring creation. Crew member Michael Anderson, a physicist, believed Heaven, not space, was his final frontier.

Their faith may come as a surprise to those who think science and religion are on irreconcilable paths. But the spiritual lives of these astronauts and thousands of scientists reveal a journey in which religion enhances and supports scientific discovery.

The space program has a long history of astronauts who have boldly taken their faith into orbit. And even as Americans grapple with the thorniest of issues dividing religion and science, including the question of creation and evolution, several national organizations have emerged for those seeking to combine careers in science with their faith in God.

"I find my appreciation of science is greatly enriched by religion," Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who heads the National Human Genome Research Institute, said in an interview with Beliefnet, a Web site at www.beliefnet.com that is devoted to spiritual topics.

"When I discover something about the human genome, I experience a sense of awe at the mystery of life, and say to myself, 'Wow, only God knew before.' It is a profoundly beautiful and moving sensation, which helps me appreciate God and makes science even more rewarding for me."

In 1958, NASA's first seven astronauts were introduced at a news conference, where John Glenn said, "I got on this project because it'll probably be the nearest thing to Heaven I'd ever get, and I wanted to make the most of it."

In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

In 1998, at age 77, Glenn returned to space, on the shuttle Discovery, and said, "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible."

The Apollo 8 crew celebrated the first flight around the moon by reading from Genesis, the first book of the Bible, which gives the creation account. The first meal on the moon was Holy Communion, taken by Buzz Aldrin.

Religion was a presence on board Columbia in its final mission.

Although he wasn't an observant Jew, Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli on a shuttle mission, ate kosher foods in space and carried a palm-size Torah scroll.

On Jan. 28, at 11:39 a.m. Eastern time, the Columbia crew bowed their heads in reverent silence to honor the exact moment the space shuttle Challenger had exploded in the skies 17 years earlier.

Husband, an engineer who first flew aboard a shuttle in 1999, had told the Fresno (Calif.) Bee in November: "I am a strong believer and a Christian. I look out that window at what a beautiful creation God has made."

Anderson, who became interested in space exploration while watching the television series "Star Trek," put faith at the center of who he was, said his father, Bobbie Anderson. "Even now, with what happened, I can feel assured that by his being a Christian man, he's in a better place," Anderson told reporters outside his home in Spokane, Wash.

Only a few scientists become astronauts. But many describe their work with the same awe-struck terms the astronauts use.

"The actual study of science and nature is likely to lead a practitioner to a sense of wonder and human smallness in the presence of a very great mind indeed.

Many would say, for instance, that there is hardly any more glorious example of God's genius in creation than the way evolution works," said science writer Kitty Ferguson, author of a new book on Johannes Kepler, the 17th-century German Lutheran who discovered the laws of planetary motion that now bear his name.

Evolution -- a tenet of 20th-century science -- can be a great divide.

Some scientists embrace an "intelligent design" theory or other scientific explanations allowing for a creator.

Others reconcile faith and science by maintaining, in Collins's words, that "a creator God set the process" of evolution in motion.

And while scientists are sometimes suspicious of men and women of faith in their midst -- "The standard assumption is that anyone with faith has gone soft in the head," Collins told Beliefnet -- people of faith are sometimes hostile to scientists.

Don Monroe, executive director of the 2,400-member American Scientific Affiliation, a support group for evangelicals in science, recalled how, as a graduate student studying cellular physiology in the mid-1960s, his pastor told him that he couldn't understand how a Christian could become a biologist.

"It made me gasp," said Monroe, who lives in Ipswich, Mass., where his organization is located. "My wife was right there behind me, and she gasped, too.

"I went home and thought about that, and I've continued to think about that for more than 30 years."

The ASA is evidence that Monroe has company in his journeys down the paths of faith and science.

The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, Calif., also grapples with ontological questions. And since 1995, the Washington-based American Association for the Advancement of Science has had a "Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion" that reaches out to religious communities. The group is the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of Science magazine.

Some see the gulf between religion and science closing.

William Phillips, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for his work in cooling and trapping atoms with lasers, said the perception that religion and science are in intractable conflict is fading.

Increasing is the view that both religion and science have "important things to tell us about life and the universe" and that "sometimes you need to consult both in order to get the best answers," said Phillips, a University of Maryland professor who sometimes teaches Sunday school at his United Methodist church.

The public is showing increased interest in "the faith of scientists" while scientists are "exploring and speaking of their own faith," said Aileen O'Donoghue, a physics professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who recently returned from a sabbatical at the Vatican Observatory in Italy.

"We are moving to an era where religion and science are less polarized," O'Donoghue said.

Shuttle commander Rick D. Husband called himself a "strong believer."Crew member Michael Anderson was Christian, his father said.