Published: Wed, December 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Crew Members of Apollo 8 Deliver Christmas Eve Message In 1968

Crew Members of Apollo 8 Deliver Christmas Eve Message In 1968

The Apollo 8 mission proved the performance of the command and service module. More than 25 per cent of people on Earth tuned in to watch the presentation. After Anders loaded the film, the next person to handle it was NASA chief of photography Dick Underwood early in 1969. Yet the crew hadn't been told what to say. It had been left to Borman, before the flight, to find "something appropriate" to say for what was expected to be the biggest broadcast audience to date. With the clock ticking on President Kennedy's challenge to land on the moon by decade's end, delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program. Thereare also special tools used in orbit.

NASA astronauts took this photo of Earth rising from lunar orbit during the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968.

Whereupon, in a surge of audacity and élan, NASA switched gears. But on this day, 50 years ago, Apollo 8 lifted off.

The risks were enormous.

As NPR writes, the photo that came to be known as "Earthrise" remains one of the most iconic images ever taken in space. That flight was the most demanding, he said, "But Apollo 8 was the one of exploration, the one of repeating the Lewis and Clark expedition ... finding the new Earth". The NOVA program traces how engineers had to tweak the design of the Saturn V's F-1 rocket engines to make sure they didn't blow themselves apart due to combustion instability. In fact, it had only been tested twice - and the second test, in April, had gone very badly. Although it seemed like we were right there with them, Apollo 8 really was really very much alone. If that engine failed, the astronauts would be doomed.

It alone may have been enough to secure Apollo 8's place in the conscience of humanity. It was taken shortly after the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy; amid the turbulence of the Vietnam War and the escalating Cold War with Russian Federation. "What's the imperative? What's pushing us to go to Mars?"

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 crewmembers Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders made a live broadcast from orbit around the Moon. Only now, on Christmas Eve day, 1968, nobody knew it. A photography experiment had the crew photograph the Moon through coloured filters. The spacecraft was now positioned in such a way that for the first time, the astronauts could see all the way to the horizon of the moon as well as into a huge swath of black sky above and beyond it.

Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman leads the way as he, James Lovell and William Anders head out to the launch pad for the historical Apollo mission.

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As the bleak moonscape swept past below them, they read from the Book of Genesis: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth". "Wait a minute, just let me get the right setting here now", he said. "And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness".

Borman brought the transmission to a finish after the men recited 10 verses.

"For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you".

Earthrise showed us that Earth is a connected system, and any changes made to this system potentially affect the whole of the planet.

Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins gets a turn in the spotlight as well, by virtue of his role as Mission Control's capsule communicator.

EPIC's goal is to provide multiple images of Earth per day, to allow us to see how the world is changing over time.

They weren't the only ones overcome with emotion. People have described afterward that listening to those words from the three of you were a unifying moment.

Fifty years ago Friday, on December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted off, marking the first time humans left low Earth orbit and flew to the moon.

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