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Apollo 8

The First Voyage to the Moon, 1968
On October 4, 1957 the world awoke to headlines announcing that the Soviet Union had launched man’s first satellite into space. Sputnik 1 was the size of a beach ball and weighed 184 lbs. It remained in orbit around the earth for a little over two months. Although the satellite’s achievements may be diminutive by today’s standards, at the time, the event sent shock waves through the United States. Less than a month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog named Laika aboard. Locked in a Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, the US had been out-maneuvered. The starting gun of the race for space had been fired.

The United States accelerated its space program, established the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and passed legislation that revamped America’s public school curriculum to emphasize science and math programs that would provide the intellectual foundation for the training of future space scientists. NASA initiated the Mercury spaceflight program in 1958 with the goal of sending single-person spacecraft in orbit around the earth. On May 5, 1961 Allan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to enter space during a 15-minute journey launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy called upon Congress to establish a space program that would land men on the moon by the end of the decade. NASA’s Gemini program was a first step in which two-man crews orbited the earth to research and test the various procedures necessary to send a space craft to the moon. The Apollo program followed with the objective of sending a three-man crew to the moon.

Apollo 8 would be the first mission to actually make the journey to the moon. Its objective was to reconnoiter potential landing sites on the lunar surface for future flights. The astronaughts would also test the critical theory that the spacecraft could use the moon’s gravitational pull as it passed its far side to place itself in orbit. It was a risky proposition that required the spacecraft's engine to be precisely ignited in order to place the vehicle into orbit. Too short of an engine burn could hurl the crew into deep space, too long of an ignition could crash the spacecraft into the lunar surface.

After a three-day journey, Apollo 8 approached the moon on December 24, 1968 with its crew of Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders. As the spacecraft slipped behind the moon, the crew prepared to ignite its engines and place themselves in orbit. The maneuver would have to be done – and done perfectly - while the crew was out of contact with earth. Anxious moments passed as ground control waited for a signal from the crew. Then, at the precise time predicted, Apollo 8 signaled that it had successfully achieved orbit of the moon. The crew orbited the moon for the next 20 hours before performing another critical burn of their rocket engine that took them out of orbit and on a trajectory for earth. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean occurred on December 28.

"Welcome to the moon, Houston."

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 sent two live TV broadcasts from the moon to earth. The video images from space captivated an audience of millions from around the globe. In the second broadcast, aired live at 9:30 Eastern Standard Time, the crew shared their experiences of the moon:


Apollo Control, Houston, here. 85 hours, 39 minutes and we're very nearly at the acquisition point. Only 10 seconds away. And we should, If we’re on plan, move right into a television transmission. The time of 85 hours 45 minutes has been passed to the crew. The prime sight for this picture will be the Goldstone Station from California. We’re getting telemetry now via Honeysuckle Creek the dish in Australia. No word yet on Goldstone. Getting a carrier nice, now it should be indicative of a transmission coming.


There are still no calls. We are a minute and a half into acquisition. The capsule communicator has been advised to pass to the crew, when we acquire, that all of the systems look good. Ten minutes now since we did acquire the spacecraft. Rather noisy data. The data of the 9th revolution around the moon, we are doing an apogee of 63 miles of a perigee of 58.9 miles, velocity 5352 feet per second.

We've got a picture here, but – we’ve got a voice to go with it. Bill Anders.



How does the picture look, Houston?


Loud and clear


Does everything look OK?

CAPCOM Rog. Very good.


Welcome to the moon, Houston.


Thank you.

We’re theorizing here that that bright spot in the top left side of your picture is the earth. That's not very clear.


Take a look at the Lunar horizon. We're going to follow a track to a terminator where we will turn the space craft and give you a view of the long-shadowed terrain at the terminator which should come in quite well in the TV.




Thank you. We don't know if you can see it from the TV screen, but the road is nothing but a Milky Way. Completely void. We're changing the cameras to the other window now.

This is Apollo 8 coming to you live from the moon. We've had to switch the TV cameras now. We showed you first a view of Earth as we've been watching it for the past 16 hours. Now we're switching so that we can show you the moon that we've been flying over at 60 miles altitude for the pas 16 hours.

Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and myself have spent the day before Christmas up here doing experiments, taking pictures and firing our spacecraft engines to maneuver around.

What we will do now is follow the trail that we've been following all day and take you on through to the Lunar sunset.

The moon is a different thing to each one of us. I think that each one of us – carries his own impression of what he’s seen today. I know my own impression is that of a vast, lonely, forbidding type of existence, great expanse of nothing that looks rather like clouds and clouds of pumice stone, and it certainly would not appear to be a very inviting place to live or work. Jim, what have you thought most about.

Well, Frank, my thoughts are very similar. The vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand ovation to the vastness of space.

Bill, what do you think?

I think the thing that impressed me the most was the Lunar sunrises and sunsets. These in particular bring out the stark nature of the terrain and the long shadows really bring out the relief that is here and hard to see and is very bright."

   The transcripts of the recordings of the Apollo 8 telecast reside in the National Archives, Records of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration; Zimmerman, Robert, Genesis, The Story of Apollo 8 (1998).

How To Cite This Article:
"Apollo 8: First Voyage to the Moon, 1968" EyeWitness to History, (2007).