It Was 37 Years Ago Today…

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GPN-2001-000009-browse.jpg Lifted almost verbatim from Wikipedia:

On December 21, 1968 Apollo 8 launched from the Kennedy Space Center.  It was the second manned mission of the Apollo space program, in which Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth orbit and to orbit around the Moon. It was also the first manned launch of the Saturn V rocket.  The crew took three days to travel to the Moon, which they orbited for 20 hours. While in lunar orbit they made a Christmas Eve television broadcast. This was one of the most watched broadcasts of all time.

Apollo 8 came at the end of 1968, a year that had seen much upheaval around the world. Soviet tanks had put a stop to the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated; the Vietnam War had escalated with the Tet Offensive; University campuses across the United States had seen rioting and occupation of buildings by students; May had seen rioting in Paris that almost led to revolution.

Yet over all these other events, TIME magazine chose the crew of Apollo 8 as their Men of the Year for 1968, recognizing them as the people that most influenced events in the preceding year. They had been the first people to ever leave the gravitational influence of the Earth and orbit another celestial body. They had survived a mission that even the crew themselves had rated as only having a fifty-fifty chance of fully succeeding. The effect of Apollo 8 can be summed up by a telegram from a stranger, received by Borman after the mission, that simply stated, "Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968."

January 3, 1969 cover of TIME Magazine with the Apollo 8 crewJanuary 3, 1969 cover of TIME Magazine with the Apollo 8 crew 

 

One of the most famous aspects of the flight was the Earthrise picture that was taken as they came around for their fourth orbit of the Moon. Although it was not the first image taken of the whole Earth nor would it be the last, this was the first time that humans had taken such a picture. Some regard the picture as being the start of the environmentalist movement, with the first Earth Day in 1970.[1]

The mission was the most widely covered by the media since the first American orbital flight, Mercury Atlas 6 by John Glenn in 1962. There were 1200 journalists covering the mission, with the BBC coverage being broadcast in 54 countries in 15 different languages. The Soviet newspaper Pravda even covered the flight without the usual anti-American editorializing. It is estimated that a quarter of the people alive at the time saw — either live or delayed — the Christmas Eve transmission during the ninth orbit of the Moon; it had a tremendous impact. Touring the world after the mission, Borman met with Pope Paul VI; he was told "I have spent my entire life trying to say to the world what you did on Christmas Eve."

The HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon has a gripping dramatization of this mission and the historical events that framed them in the episode 1968.    

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