Apollo 8 mission fifty years on

Pablo Tucker
December 26, 2018

It would require the most powerful rocket ever built, the Saturn V, to propel Apollo 8 beyond earth orbit.

LEWIS: The U.S. and the Soviet Union had spent the 1960s locked in the space race, and getting to the moon first was a thrilling achievement.

Astronauts (left to right) William Anders, James Lovell Jr and Frank Borman in training for the Apollo mission.

The Apollo 8 lunar module pilot told the BBC that he thinks unmanned programs are the way to go "mainly because they're much cheaper".

It wasn't a mission NASA had originally planned for.

To the relief of mission controllers, fixes added by engineers aimed at reducing the vibrations (of "pogo") that had almost led to the loss of the previous Saturn V launch worked, and the combined stack of the S-IVB third stage, service module and command module were slotted into Earth orbit. The "B" mission would repeat the same mission with a Lunar Module (LM) (Apollo 5). But without Apollo 8, noted George Washington's Logsdon, NASA likely would not have met President John F. Kennedy's deadline of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.


By August, delays in the lunar module development meant that the mission would not have the very spacecraft it was intended to test. Rather than go all that way just to swing around and come back, NASA made a decision to test the lunar orbital portion of the Apollo missions by putting Apollo 8 into orbit for 10 revolutions before coming home.

Starting with the launch. Thereare also special tools used in orbit. But Saturn V was new and had never flown a manned crew. And since the sun circled the Earth, and not the other way around those days, Apollo was guaranteed to get a spectacular view of our planet from above and afar as he rode his chariot. He and his Apollo 8 crewmates, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, were on their fourth orbit of the moon, passing over the far side, farther from home than any human beings had ever been, when they happened to see the Earth beginning to peek out over the lunar horizon. And my personal favourites? It was a remarkable time in this country's history.

Translunar flight of Apollo 8.

"Nasa couldn't get to the Moon today". The picture Anders took in those fleeting moments became one of the most influential ones in history, credited both with helping to kick-start the environmental movement and with ending the exceedingly bloody year that was 1968 on a note of redemption. Personally, this is my favourite. There's such a subtle human element here.

KELLY: And I went back and looked 'cause there's some controversy over - the official transcript reads, Houston, we've had a problem.

This is a weird one but I sort of love it. An investigation of transcripts later revealed that Borman, who was the first to recognise the importance of the moment, took a black-and-white photo before Anders snapped the iconic colour photograph. It's just a little eerie, but also awesome.


Although only a small number of us will actually make it to space, to gain the same perspective as the astronauts who have been there, seeing these views of our world, every day, could help. "I firmly believe that we need robust exploration of our solar system and I think man is part of that".

SHEEHAN: So I think Bill Anders was quick on his feet thinking this through, and he was able to capture this image, which utterly transformed each of these men.

LEWIS: It wasn't just the crew of Apollo 8 that reflected during the flight.

The first humans to orbit the Moon, and at the close of a tumultuous year, the crew took turns reading from the opening lines of the biblical book of Genesis. And people are still outraged! They soon got confirmation when Lovell radioed, "Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus".

Another such tragedy would be shattering to Americans, all the more so since Apollo 8 would be traveling over Christmas. And if you'd like to get an in-depth look at the mission, I highly recommend Apollo 8 by Jeff Kluger - an incredible book by one of my writing inspirations.


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