Fifty years ago today the Apollo 8 mission was launched just four days before Christmas.
1968 had been a rough, tumultuous year. We’d lost the Rev Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to assassins bullets. Riots had broken out in several US cities. Czechoslovakia got invaded by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact to put an end to the Prague Spring.
The Vietnam War was raging, and the protests against it were ramping up. Nixon was now the president-elect after LBJ declined to run for another term.
Despite all the national and international drama, NASA was still working to make President Kennedy’s challenge to the country to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade happen.
And this mission was critical to making the other goal happen with the clock inexorably ticking toward the end of the 1960’s.
After launching on December 20 with astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders onboard was one packed with historical firsts. The first to leave Earth and set out for another celestial body. Most importantly in that Cold War space race period, the first manned mission to orbit the moon.
It arrived at the moon to start its ten orbits of the moon on Christmas Eve. And then the got the sight and the photo of a lifetime, the famous shot of Earth rising above the moon.
They also sent a message from lunar orbit to the people back on Earth breathlessly watching the mission.
Seven months later, the mission that President Kennedy had set the nation on course to complete would be accomplished with Apollo 11 landing on the moon that July.