“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” -President John F. Kennedy, 25 May 1961
Apollo 8 was the first manned space mission to leave earth orbit in December of 1968 and travel to another “planet”. It was crewed by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders who, with the successful launch, execution and recovery, logged a record number of ‘firsts’…
• First manned flight of the Saturn V rocket
• First manned space mission to leave earth orbit
• First humans to directly see the dark side of the moon
• First humans to see Earth from beyond low Earth orbit
• First manned launch from the John F. Kennedy Space Center
• First successful launch and recovery of humans into deep space
The mission was originally intended as a Lunar and Command Module medium
Earth orbit test flight to take place in early 1969. However, with the race to the moon heating up and the lunar module not being ready, the mission was changed and time line bumped up.
Apollo 8 launched on 21 December, 1968. It took three days to travel to the moon, 20 hours to make 10 lunar orbits, then back for a 27 December, 1968 splashdown.
“You saved 1968.”
In modern times when space flight has become almost routine and communication around the world is instantaneous, it is sometime hard to keep in perspective the impact Apollo 8 had. In 1968 Martin Luther King and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy had been assassinated, and in the first six months the US had suffered over 6,000 causalities from the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. A year earlier the Apollo 1 crew had been lost in “The Fire”, and Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die during a space flight. The world needed something good to happen.
Mission commander Frank Borman was asked to carry a bulky tv camera. Col. Borman had been opposed because of weight during the mission planning (they were even discarding extra rations) but he was ordered to take the camera. Ironically, Borman later recalled that for the first broadcast CBS interrupted a playoff game between the Vikings and Colts and the network was swamped with protesting calls.
The crew knew that they were going into orbit on Christmas Eve and struggled to find something to say. NASA’s instructions to the Apollo 8 crew for the Christmas Eve broadcast: were only “Say something appropriate.”
Overloaded in the short 4 month training for the mission, Borman appealed for help from a friend, Si Bourgin, who in turn discussed it with reporter Joe Laitin. Latin in turn mentioned it to his wife, and it was Mrs. Laitin who came up with the reading from Genesis.
So on Christmas Eve 1968, over 1 billion people around the world (including many behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow and East Berlin) were able to watch a grainy black and white tv picture and hear the scratchy voices of three men over 250,000 miles away describe the alien world outside their windows.
As the broadcast came to a close, Bill Anders began speaking…
“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.”
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Thanks to Steve Kessinger for researching and writing his material.