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December 22, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 12


The Apollo 8 mission, launched on December 21, 1968, marked the first time in history that humans traveled outside the Earth’s orbit.

Apollo 8, which preceded the first moon landing by seven months, included ten orbits around the moon. It was the first manned flight to use the Saturn V rocket, which would serve as the launch vehicle for all the remaining Apollo missions as well as Skylab 1. The crew consisted of Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders.

The mission yielded the famous Earth Rising photograph taken by Anders with a modified Hasselblad 500 EL handheld camera. This became an iconic image of the Apollo era.

The mission also made history for its Christmas Eve broadcast. Aware that an enormous worldwide audience would be following the mission live on television and radio, the crew deliberated about what they might say. NASA management left the decision to the crew. “The only instruction that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate,” Frank Borman recalled at a November 2008 forum at the National Air & Space Museum. At the suggestion of a NASA executive, the crew contacted Joe Layton, a veteran journalist, whose wife came up with the idea of reading aloud the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis. They printed the text on their flight plan.

Looking back at the significance of Apollo 8, former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn characterized the mission as one of the most important missions in NASA’s history. Speaking at the at the National Air & Space Museum forum in November, he summed up its importance in a sentence: “It was the first time that humans left the vicinity of Earth and traveled to a whole other world.”

Learn more about the Apollo 8 mission.

Video: An Evening with the Apollo 8 Astronauts (Annual John H. Glenn Lecture Series)

Watch a short video about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 8.

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