Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman's December 1968 mission paved the way for the first manned Moon landing, Apollo 11, the next summer. While in a lunar orbit, they conducted a series of tests, read from the book of Genesis and wished people on Earth a merry Christmas.
Photo: Apollo 8 astronauts walking to the launch pad (NASA)
Astronauts orbit the Moon for the first time.
NASA prepares for the ultimate goal of a man on the Moon.
The 1968 Apollo 8 spacecraft was the first manned probe to orbit the Moon. The astronauts on board were Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders.
Apollo 8 orbits the Moon as NASA prepares for a manned landing.
Apollo 8 orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968 and temporarily lost contact with mission controllers when the spacecraft went behind the Moon. This mission was one of the final test flights before the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing.
Apollo 8, the second human spaceflight mission in the United States Apollo space program, was launched on December 21, 1968, and became the first crewed spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth's Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, the first to directly see the far side of the Moon, and then the first to witness Earthrise. The 1968 mission, the third flight of the Saturn V rocket and that rocket's first crewed launch, was also the first human spaceflight launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Originally planned as a second Lunar Module/Command Module test in an elliptical medium Earth orbit in early 1969, the mission profile was changed in August 1968 to a more ambitious Command Module-only lunar orbital flight to be flown in December, because the Lunar Module was not yet ready to make its first flight. This meant Borman's crew was scheduled to fly two to three months sooner than originally planned, leaving them a shorter time for training and preparation, thus placing more demands than usual on their time and discipline.
Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. It orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast where they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo 8's successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. The Apollo 8 astronauts returned to Earth on December 27, 1968, when their spacecraft splashed down in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The crew was named Time magazine's "Men of the Year" for 1968 upon their return.