12/24/68 — Forty Years Ago Today
On 21 December 1968, Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, was launched from Cape Kennedy. The crew of three included: Frank Borman, commander; James A. Lovell, command module pilot; and William A. Anders, lunar module pilot.
Apollo 8 was the first of the three exploratory precursors to Apollo 11 — which was launched eight months later on 16 July 1969, and whose lunar module landed on the Moon on 20 July.
Apollo 8 was the first manned craft to leave earth’s gravitational field, and the first to enter the atmosphere of another celestial body
1968 had been a hard, and, in many ways, a horrendous year, but a weary world was at least unite for a few moments at its end to look up —in awe for all, in pride for some— and marvel at the idea that the old moon now being orbited by three visitors from earth.
The whole world was truly riveted and thrilled by the photographs (including the now iconic earthrise, which was also sent back on Christmas Eve) and the TV images from the camera pointed out the window at the lunar surface racing by only 71 miles below.
On Christmas Eve, the astronauts hosted a live TV broadcast. It isn’t going too far to say that the earth in solemn stillness lay to hear what they would say. And they surprised —and moved— people all around the globe by the message they chose to send. Each astronaut in turn —in reverse order of mission seniority— shared the reading.