I originally wrote this post for Christmas Eve 2008 the 40th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 8. I repost it for tonight to remind us of that mission and of a time in which Americans were more appreciative of G-d.
Three words read by William Anders aboard the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve 1968.
1968 was our Annus horribilis. It was a year of unrest at the Democratic National Convention. It was the year that saw the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. It was a year in which riots and protests were the daily fare on the nightly newscasts. It was a year in which America felt at its lowest point. And America needed a boost.
When the Apollo 8 mission was originally planned the mission was not suppose to go to the moon. It was suppose to be in a low Earth orbit checking out the systems on the Command module and possibly the lunar module if one had been ready by then. Instead the mission was changed and Apollo 8 would be the first manned mission to go to the moon. In itself it would be a very dangerous mission, the first of anything is alway a dangerous mission to accomplish. Because of the nature of the mission and the decision to change it, the true mission was kept a secret from the public until the official announcement on 12 November 1968, less than 40 days before the scheduled launch.
Apollo 8 launched at 7:51:00 a.m. on December 21, 1968. During the flight, three fellow astronauts served on the ground as capsule communicators (usually referred to as “CAPCOMs”) on a rotating schedule. The CAPCOMs were the only people who regularly communicated with the crew. Michael Collins was the first CAPCOM on duty and at 2 hours, 27 minutes and 22 seconds after launch radioed, “Apollo 8. You are Go for TLI“. This communication signified that Mission Control had given official permission for Apollo 8 to go to the moon. Over the next twelve minutes before the TLI burn, the Apollo 8 crew continued to monitor the spacecraft and the rocket. The S-IVB third stage rocket ignited on time and burned perfectly for 5 minutes and 17 seconds. The burn increased the velocity of Apollo 8 to 35,505 feet per second (10,822 m/s) and the spacecraft’s altitude at the end of the burn was 215.4 miles (346.7 km). At this time, the crew also set the record for the highest speed humans had ever traveled.
Five hours after launch, Mission Control sent a command to the S-IVB booster to vent its remaining fuel through its engine bell to change the booster’s trajectory. This S-IVB would then pass the Moon and enter into a solar orbit, posing no further hazard to Apollo 8. The S-IVB subsequently went into a 0.99 by 0.92 AU solar orbit with an inclination of 23.47° and a period of 340.80 days.
The Apollo 8 crew were the first humans to pass through the Van Allen radiation belts, which extend up to 15,000 miles (25,000 km) from Earth. Scientists predicted that passing through the belts quickly at the spacecraft’s high speed would cause a radiation dosage of no more than a chest X-ray, or 1 milligray (during the course of a year, the average human receives a dose of 2 to 3 mGy). To record the actual radiation dosages, each crew member wore a Personal Radiation Dosimeter that transmitted data to Earth as well as three passive film dosimeters that showed the cumulative radiation experienced by the crew. By the end of the mission, the crew experienced an average radiation dose of 1.6 mGy.
At about 55 hours and 40 minutes into the flight, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to enter the gravitational sphere of influence of another celestial body. At 64 hours into the flight, the crew began to prepare for Lunar Orbit Insertion-1 (LOI-1). This maneuver had to be performed perfectly, and due to orbital mechanics had to be on the far side of the Moon, out of contact with the Earth. After Mission Control was polled for a Go/No Go decision, the crew was told at 68 hours, they were Go and “riding the best bird we can find”. At 68 hours and 58 minutes, the spacecraft went behind the Moon and out of radio contact with the Earth.
When the spacecraft came out from behind the Moon for its fourth pass across the front, the crew witnessed an event no one had ever seen — Earthrise. Borman saw the Earth emerging from behind the lunar horizon and called in excitement to the others, taking a black-and-white photo as he did so: Earthrise, seen for the first time by human eyes. In the ensuing scramble Anders took the more famous color photo, later picked by Life magazine as one of its hundred photos of the century.
As they rounded the Moon for the ninth time, the second television transmission began. Borman introduced the crew, followed by each man giving his impression of the lunar surface and what it was like to be orbiting the Moon. Borman described it as being “a vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing.” Then, after talking about what they were flying over, Anders said that the crew had a message for all those on Earth. Each man on board read the story of creation from Book of Genesis. Borman finished the broadcast by wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone on Earth. His message appeared to sum up the feelings that all three crewmen had from their vantage point in lunar orbit. Borman said, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas to all of you, all of you on the good Earth”
After 10 lunar orbit, Apollo 8 returned to Earth on 27 December 1968. A successful and historic mission.
So on this Christmas Eve, we should remember a historic moment in Human history that took place 40 years ago.
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to 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.
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.”
View at YouTube
On this Christmas Eve I wish to again recall the words of Apollo 8 in wishing you a Merry Christmas.