Dec 24th, 2018

Apollo 8: Christmas Eve Fifty Year Ago

Apollo 8 orbited the moon on Christmas Eve fifty years ago.  Here is the story of the memorable voyage

Apollo Program

The origins of the Apollo program lie in the speech by President Kennedy on May 25, 1961.  In the speech Kennedy went about setting a goal that by the end of the decade of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

The United States space program began with the one man Mercury program as Americans first orbited the earth and learned about space.  This was followed by the Gemini program, which carried two astronauts.  This program taught the US how to operate in space.  This all led to the three astronaut Apollo program.

Apollo Tragedy

Apollo began tragically.  During a routine test Gus Grissom, Roger White and Ed Chaffee burned alive in the capsule on the launch pad.  The men of the Apollo I crew were buried with full military honors  www.doctoraviation.com/apollo-1-the-cost-of-getting-to-the-moon/

NASA launched Apollo 7 on October 11, 1968.  The mission tested the command module in earth orbit.  It was a “test drive” so to speak.  Eventually a fully decked out Apollo mission would have three parts or modules: the command module (where the three astronauts normally worked), the service module (carrying most of the equipment to operate the crafts) and the lunar module which would separate from the main craft and carry two men to the surface of the moon.  The lunar module would then take off and reunite with the command module for the trip back to earth.

Apollo 8

Apollo 8 was originally slated to test the Lunar Module in earth’s orbit.  However, the Lunar Module was not ready.  As it is said, “Flexibility is the key airpower”.  The mission was changed be the first Apollo mission to orbit to the moon.  The craft lifted off on December 21, 1968.

Onboard was Frank Borman, William Anders and Jim Lovell.  Frank Borman (right) went on to become the President of Eastern Airlines.  Anders (center) served as Ambassador to Norway.  Finally, Jim Lovell (left) later commanded Apollo 13.  Tom Hanks immortally portrayed Lovell in the film of the same name.

Apollo reached the moon’s orbit on December 24, 1968.  William Anders snapped the famous photo, now known as “Earthrise” on the morning of Christmas Eve 1968.

The mission was a rousing success.  However, what is remembered best by Americans over the age of 60 was the touching message sent back to earth by the crew on Christmas Eve 1868.  Rather than “steal their thunder” I leave you to watch and hear the message.

Merry Christmas to all.  “God bless all of you, all of you, on the good earth.”

 

For a summary of each Apollo mission see: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo.html