Years Ago Today, Apollo 8 Wished Earth A Merry Christmas Eve

That flight was the most demanding, he said, "But Apollo 8 was the one of exploration, the one of repeating the Lewis and Clark expedition ... finding the new Earth".

"We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice", said Borman at a 2008 Apollo anniversary event. The excerpt below from my 2017 book Apollo 8 describes the scene, reconstructed with the help of interviews with the crew, as the astronauts emerged from the far side of the moon, not yet knowing the image that awaited them. But the well-known Earthrise image was actually the second image taken of the Earth rising above the lunar limb - it was just the first in color. The engine firing needed to shoot them back to Earth occurred while the capsule was out of communication with Mission Control in Houston. The agency meant to launch missions of increasing difficulty flying in alphabetical order. Anders, Lovell and Borman were the first men in history to orbit the moon after their initial Earth-orbit-only flight was scrapped amidst space-race panic vis a vis Russian Federation. The "B" mission would repeat the same mission with a Lunar Module (LM) (Apollo 5).

The mission was crucial in paving the way for Apollo 11's moon landing seven months later. If that went well, Anders' next flight would surely be a trip to the moon.

It's been 50 years since the Apollo 8 mission. The solution was to make it a "C-prime" mission - fly to the Moon without a lunar module.

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

Starting with the launch. For the first time, the rest of humanity experienced a hint of that astronautical overview effect. But Saturn V was new and had never flown a manned crew.

The view just south of Florida.

Prior to Apollo 8, the Soviet Union beat the Americans to launch the first satellite, Sputnik in 1957; send the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin in 1961; send the first woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963; and send the first probes to the moon, Venus and Mars. The pictures that aren't perfectly framed. It was a remarkable time in this country's history.

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The Apollo 8 astronauts got where they were that Christmas Eve because of a bold, improvisational call by NASA. It showed a brightly-lit stretch of the moon's surface, including some craters. On viewers' screens, there was a slight brightening on the lunar horizon, and then a crackly recitation by the astronauts. Personally, this is my favourite.

To this day, that 1968 mission is considered to be NASA's boldest and perhaps most unsafe undertaking.

The less famous Earthrise. They were all impressed by the fact the moon was such a stark contrast to the Earth. I love my family more than anything in the world.

It was during their fourth orbit around the Moon that the iconic photograph was captured. It's just a little eerie, but also awesome.

"I suddenly found myself 360 feet high", recalled astronaut Jim Lovell, who sat in the middle seat. With the bit of the windowsill in the shot, I love the reminder that it was people and not robots that went to the Moon.

'The crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send to you.'

That same day, the astronauts read passages from the Book of Genesis and wished those back home a Merry Christmas during a special television broadcast. And people are still outraged!

KING: It was the first time that human beings had ventured to and orbited the moon. Here's a recap of the reading and the resulting lawsuit in a couple of older videos.

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