Years Ago Apollo 8 Wished Earth A Merry Christmas Eve


Fifty years ago this week, at another time when Americans and so much of the world were riven by turmoil, anger, and mistrust, Apollo 8 had found a way to remind earth's residents that what unites them is far more profound and enduring than what divides them. When the Apollo 8 mission was redesigned, no mission control room was ready, no trajectories had been calculated for a lunar flight, no astronauts had been trained for it and there was no procedure for fetching returning astronauts on landing, current NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recounted in a new video released by the agency.

On Dec. 21, 1968, just before 5 a.m. local time, James Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman had no way of knowing that when they piled into their capsule tucked atop a Saturn V rocket on a Florida launchpad.

While photographing the moon's surface, Bill Anders saw the Earth rising over the lunar horizon. Anders rushed to snap a picture, and the Earthrise image remains one of the most famous ever taken in space.

In the transmission heard around the world, Anders said: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you". The mission was planned in just four months as the USA raced to beat the Russians to the moon.

"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".

To Lovell, the journey had the thrill and romance of true exploration, and provided an uplifting cap for Americans to a painful, contentious year marked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, nationwide riots and protests of the Vietnam War. "Thanks, you saved 1968".

"What's the imperative? What's pushing us to go to Mars?" he said. The NOVA program traces how engineers had to tweak the design of the Saturn V's F-1 rocket engines to make sure they didn't blow themselves apart due to combustion instability.

The only thing that remained of the mission was the trip back home.

The broadcast ended with the crew reading from the book of Genesis. A NASA director answered: 50-50.

It would be hard for that Christmas to top the one from the year before, when my father came home on Christmas Eve, having been in the hospital for more than a month. Apollo 9 would lift up to Earth orbit and test out the lander, while Apollo 10, in May 1969, tested the lander above the surface of the Moon-stopping short of a landing. "Look at that picture over there!"

Three happy Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman left William A. Anders center and James A. Lovell stroll across the deck of the USS Yorktown after their recovery from the Pacific Ocean Dec. 28 1968
Apollo 8: Around The Moon and Back

"Oh man, that's great", Lovell said, still fixed on the apparition outside his window. Look at that!' and up came the Earth. And Anders says it forever changed the way people think about where we live.

His Earthrise photo is a pillar of today's environmental movement.

Anders wondered then - and now - "This is not a very big place, why can't we get along?"

"That one image, I think, it just gives us the who and where we are in the universe so beautifully", she said.

We'd been following the Apollo 8 mission during Christmas week and knew it was the most important yet.

Reflecting on their own historic mission to the Moon, Borman described Apollo 8 as a "great endeavour" and agreed that it had won the space race.

If ever fortune favored the fearless, it favored NASA and the crew of Apollo 8.

Borman and Anders never flew in space again, and Soviet cosmonauts never made it to the moon.

Lovell also flew on ill-fated Apollo 13, which had to abort plans to land on the moon after an explosion in an oxygen tank.



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