Half a century ago, Apollo 8 gave mankind a Christmas to remember

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“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.” So began the momentous Christmas broadcast on Dec. 24, 1968 — the most-watched television program in history at that time — when astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders read verses from the book of Genesis as they became the first humans in history to leave Earth’s orbit and circle the moon.

As so many of us in this country and others around the world are home with our families this Christmas season, we should remember these three intrepid, brave American explorers and the thousands of engineers, scientists and technicians who made their flight possible.

Fifty-one years ago, these astronauts captured the first photograph of the Earth rising in the void and darkness of the heavens at a very special time, a holiday where Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus and wish for peace on Earth and good will toward men, of which there is sadly too little in our everyday lives.

That haunting and profoundly moving photograph shows a precious and fragile jewel. But it is also an exquisite orb filled with the beautiful blues of the oceans and full of the light that, as Anders read, “God moved upon the face of the waters.”

Apollo 8 launched on Dec. 21, 1968, in a spectacular cloud of flame from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. It was only the second manned launch to lift off from the Cape after the tragic cabin fire in the Apollo 1 command module that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffe.

This mission followed the October flight of Apollo 7, with Walter Schirra, Walter Cunningham and Donn Eisele, that circled the Earth as the first crewed Apollo mission. Apollo 7 made the first television broadcast from space, something we take for granted today.

The purpose of the Apollo 8 mission was to test everything from the basic functioning of the equipment to the ability to successfully navigate a manned spacecraft to our nearest neighbor in space and get back safely. This was an achievement that no one but a few dreamers had believed was even technologically feasible just a short time before. It was one of the most remarkable accomplishments in the history of our living on this planet we call home.

The Apollo 8 spacecraft took almost three days to reach its destination and insert itself into an orbit around what Shakespeare called an “arrant thief” whose “pale fire she snatches from the sun.” Sixty-nine hours into the mission, Borman, Lovell and Anders saw something that no one had ever seen before — the dark side of the moon, where there is no “pale fire” from the sun.

Those daring Americans spent 20 hours circling the moon, getting as close as 70 miles to the surface. At the end of their 10th lunar orbit, they fired their rockets for three minutes and 23 seconds to leave that …read more

Source:: Bangor Daily News


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