Tuesday, December 24, 2013

45th Anniversary: Apollo 8 Orbits the Moon Christmas Eve

The famous 'Earthrise' photo from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon. The crew entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, 1968 December 24. That evening, the astronauts held a live broadcast, showing pictures of the Earth and Moon as seen from their spacecraft. (Image Source: NASA)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Forty-five years ago today, Christmas Eve in 1968, three men from the Planet Earth, in the Apollo 8 space capsule, first went into orbit of another planetary body, Earth's Moon. It was 4:59 a.m. EST (9:59 Coordinated Universal Time) when Apollo 8 went behind the Moon and entered lunar orbit with the three-man crew: Commander Frank F. Borman, II, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders (Lunar Module Pilot was his official title, even though the Lunar Excursion Module did not fly with the Apollo 8 mission).

On the evening of Christmas Eve in 1968, I (while on vacation with my family in Saint Petersburg Beach, Florida), along with millions of television viewers around the world, watched the three Apollo 8 astronauts take turns reading verses from the first chapter of the book of Genesis in the Bible. They ended the broadcast saying, "Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth." At that time, their broadcast was the most watched television program ever, which was later given an Emmy Award by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

This was a welcome end to a very turbulent year in American history. Earlier in the year, both civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, had been assassinated. Dr. King's assassination was quickly followed by race riots in many major American cities including Pittsburgh. American military participation in the Vietnam conflict, which had become unpopular with many Americans, led to the surprising announcement that the incumbent U.S. President, Lyndon B. Johnson, would not seek reelection.

Internationally, 1968 was the year of the "Prague Spring," when, for a short time, political liberalization from Communist rule was attempted in Czechoslovakia. This continued until August when Soviet Union-backed Warsaw Pact troops and tanks invaded and occupied the eastern European country.

Almost two years earlier, the American Space Program had come to a temporary halt after three astronauts, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee, had been killed in a space capsule fire during a launch pad test of Apollo 1 on 1967 January 27 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The manned phase of Project Apollo was delayed 20 months while a wide array of lethal design and construction flaws in the Apollo Command Module space vehicle was corrected.

After three unmanned Apollo missions in late 1967 and early 1968, the next manned American space mission was the flight of Apollo 7 in October of 1968. Apollo 7 carried-out the original mission of Apollo 1: Earth orbital test of the (now redesigned) Apollo Command and Service Modules with a full crew. The first live television from an American spacecraft also occurred on Apollo 7.

A manned orbital mission of the Moon had not originally been planned for as early as 1968, and a Christmas Eve lunar orbital mission had never been envisioned, until spacecraft production problems required a different decision in August of 1968. What was originally planned as a manned test of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) in Earth orbit became a lunar orbital mission, when the LEM proved to be unready for flight.

Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to use the Saturn V launch vehicle, which was necessary to reach the Moon. All previous Apollo missions (except the unmanned Apollo 4 and Apollo 6 flights) had been launched on Saturn IB rockets.

Apollo 8 was launched on the day of the Winter Solstice, 1968 December 21, and returned to Earth on December 27, when the Command Module splashed-down in the North Pacific Ocean. After taking two days to reach the Moon, Apollo 8 orbited the Moon 10 times over 20 hours-time.

The famous "Earthrise" photograph was taken by Apollo 8, as they came around for the fourth orbit of the Moon. It was the first time a human, behind the camera, had taken such a picture. This photograph is credited with inspiring the first Earth Day in 1970.

The Apollo 8 Command Module is now on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, along with the space suit worn by Frank Borman and a collection of personal items donated by Jim Lovell. Bill Anders' space suit is on display at London's Science Museum, while Jim Lovell's space suit is on display at the Visitor Center at NASA's Glenn Research Center, which since September of 2009 has been located inside the Great Lakes Science Center in Downtown Cleveland.

Yesterday, Jim Lovell, along with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission at the Museum of Science and Industry by reenacting their Christmas Eve 1968 broadcast from lunar orbit. Jim Lovell also said, "We felt very fortunate to be in a position ... where we had something upbeat to give to the world that was in turmoil."

More on Apollo 8:
Link 1 >>> http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/apollo8.html
Link 2 >>> http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo8.html#.UrjZw7S4FYE
Link 3 >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_8
Reading of Genesis on Apollo 8: Link >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_8_Genesis_reading

More on the 2013 Dec. 23 commemoration of Apollo 8 at the Museum of Science and Industry:
Link 1 >>> http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-apollo-broadcast-reenactment-met-1224-20131224,0,6756921.story
Link 2 >>> http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/23/3834069/apollo-8-astronaut-to-mark-1968.html

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

Related Blog Posts ---

John Fitzgerald Kennedy: Loss of the Man Who Sent Us to the Moon

A Personal Remembrance From 50 Years Ago

By Glenn A. Walsh  (2013 November 22):

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/11/jfk-loss-of-man-who-sent-us-to-moon.html 


The Historic Mission of Apollo 11, Man Walks on the Moon for the First Time
A Personal Remembrance from 40 Years Ago By Glenn A. Walsh (2009 July):

Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/bio/Apolloremembrance.htm

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Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
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* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
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* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
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* Public Transit:
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