Crew Members of Apollo 8 Deliver Christmas Eve Message In 1968

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Crew Members of Apollo 8 Deliver Christmas Eve Message In 1968

The mission capped a hard and conflict-filled year in the USA, offering a rare moment when people could feel good about their planet.

Fifty years later, Anders wrote a moving insider's account on Space.com of that fateful mission - one which he calculated at the time to have only a 1-in-3 chance of returning to Earth.

Things didn't go according to plan, in short, because the Lunar Module fell behind schedule.

"The Apollo 8 mission, which paved the way for Apollo 11's historic lunar landing seven months later, was fraught with risk". For Borman, however, the more spacious confines of the Apollo capsule (compared to the cramped Gemini) led to a bout of space sickness. What does the ole Moon look like from 60 miles? "We were positioned so we basically couldn't see the moon the whole time from leaving Earth until getting into lunar orbit", Anders says.

The year was 1968.

On Jan. 30, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, raising doubts about President Lyndon Johnson's claims that the USA -backed South Vietnamese forces were winning the Vietnam War.

On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray while King stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Brutal riots outside the Democratic National Convention played out on televisions across the country.

At least one of these three stations would have a dish that would face the spacecraft at any given time, receiving their communications and passing them to Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

If ever fortune favored the fearless, it favored NASA and the crew of Apollo 8.

As their tiny Apollo module orbited around the dark side of the moon, charting valleys, mountains and craters hidden from Earth for millions of years, their cameras recorded something that no human being had seen before. The Apollo 8 astronauts radioed live recordings from the surface of the moon to the earth, and read from the creation story. The world map in Theatrum depicts an Earth in light brown, blue and red, dark yellow and green, with a dark blue, nearly black space surrounding it.

There was also an unexpected moment during the 20 hours they circled the moon.

Anders' assignment was to shoot photos of the moon's surface.

Anders: Oh my God! "Look at that picture over there!" Look at that!' And up came the Earth.

LEWIS: The Earth, rising above the barren lunar landscape.

Earthrise is now one of the most reproduced space photos of all time, appearing on U.S. postage stamps, posters, and the cover of Time magazine in 1969.

"That's when I was thinking 'that's a pretty place down there, '" says Anders.

ANDERS: The only color that we could see - and contrasted by this really unfriendly, stark lunar horizon made me think, you know, we really live on a handsome little planet.

It alone may have been enough to secure Apollo 8's place in the conscience of humanity. He says something unusual happened afterward: "At the end of 1968, when Apollo 8 splashed down, you saw hippies hugging old men in the streets".

It's been 50 years since the Apollo 8 mission.

"That one image, I think, it just gives us the who and where we are in the universe so beautifully", she said. War, riots, assassinations - the mood was hardly festive, said the author of a recent book on Apollo 8, Jeffrey Kluger.

And since Apollo 8's journey, only 21 other astronauts have seen what Borman, Lovell and Anders beheld up close, meaning that leafing through maps, globes and the pages of an atlas is the best way to hitch a ride with Apollo's chariot for the most of us.

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