In our continuing but intermittent series of space anniversaries,* today — 21 December — is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo-8.
On this date in 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on the first-ever circumlunar flight. They were the first human beings to leave the Earth’s “sphere of influence” (i.e., its gravity), and the first people to see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes.
Not only were they the first people to take pictures of the Earth from the vicinity of the Moon, but they were also the first crew to spend Christmas in space. In their Christmas Eve television broadcast, they took turns reading from Genesis:
“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
“And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
“And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
“And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
They returned to earth on 27 December. You can learn more about their mission here.
I consider it a shame that today, 40 years after their pathfinding mission, we don’t have people living on the moon and have only a tiny contingent living in space. I think it’s a shame because I want to be one of them; but since I can’t, I content myself with writing about people colonizing that frontier.
*If you’re new to the series, we primarily only do big anniversaries, i.e., those in multiples of 5.