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Apollo 8 50th Anniversary

by Andrew Zarowny, 12/27/2018


Today marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 successfully completely its historic mission to the Moon. On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 blasted off from Cape Kennedy, Florida, launching the very first time humans would leave the Earth for another celestial body. The crew was Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders. After completing 10 orbits around the Moon, the Apollo 8 command module returned safely to Earth on December 27, 1968. The mission was dangerous and was actually a ′Plan B′ due to several events.



Early in 1967, a ′full-up′ test of the Apollo spacecraft was conducted at Cape Kennedy, ending with the death of three astronauts. Gus Grissom, Edward White and Bill Chafee died when a bare wire sparked a fire inside the command module. The small spacecraft had less room than the inside of a VW micro-bus. But, along with a pure oxygen atmosphere, it was loaded with flammable materials. To make matters worse, the hatch was difficult to lock and unlock. To top it off, it was designed to open by swinging the hatch inside the spacecraft. So, even if engineers had opened it quickly, getting the astronauts out fast was impossible.


NASA ordered a halt to the entire program and Frank Borman was assigned to review what had happened. His report detailed the numerous design flaws. The Apollo program was put on hold as the spacecraft was redesigned. This was just as well, as another key component to landing a man on the Moon was having trouble. The lunar lander was also a mess. Being the first manned vehicle designed to only operate in space, engineers were having lots of problems. They would miss the deadline for getting it ready for its first flight, which was to be Apollo 8. They were suppose to test the lunar lander in low Earth orbit.


With Apollo back on track, another development took place in the summer of 1968. Thanks to a photo snapped by a spy satellite, the CIA learned that the Soviet Union, the Russians, had built a giant rocket, capable of sending men to the Moon. Back in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to be the first to land men on the Moon and return them safely, it was believed that we could beat the Russians before the end of 1969. Now, with photos of a new rocket, the American government was no longer so sure.


NASA officials explained the situation to Frank Borman, who was mission commander for Apollo 8. A ′Plan B′ was quickly cooked up to scrap his origin flight and instead to attempt to orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The lunar lander would not be ready for a test flight for months. Borman understood the geopolitical ramifications if the Russians beat them in even just orbiting the Moon, let alone landing on it.


In October, 1968, Apollo 7 was launched. This was the first manned test flight of the newly redesigned command module. The flight was a success. Everything worked fine. The trip to the Moon was on! 1968 had been an awful year for America. The war in Vietnam was not going well in the public′s opinion. College students were protesting, Blacks were protesting, protesters were protesting! Between the war, civil right marches, riots and political assassinations, 1968 was shaping up as a horrible year. Many questioned why were we spending any money on the Space Race while the country was in such turmoil?


When Apollo 8 launched, the crew was well aware of what their flight meant. They had been instructed that once in lunar orbit, they would have to make a TV broadcast to Earth. That they would probably have the single largest audience ever. But NASA didn′t offer any suggestions as to what to do, other than point the camera out the window at the Moon. The wife of a journalist who covered NASA suggested that the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis. Can you image a journalist′s wife suggesting reading from a Bible today? Maybe one from Fox News, perhaps.



On December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft arrived at the Moon. Shortly after achieving orbit, the TV camera was turned on and the big show began. The crew took turns reading and the result on Earth was astounding. As the words were read, images of the barren surface of the Moon rolled by, reminding viewers how fortunately we are to live on a planet that was teeming with life. Later, Bill Anders snapped a photo which became the iconic ′Earth Rise′ image. A blue planet above the Moon′s horizon, standing out from the void of space.



Three days later, the Apollo 8 spacecraft returned from the Moon. Traveling at a speed of some 25,000MPH, the command module sliced through our atmosphere as a ball of fire. Within 10 minutes, the craft′s parachutes had opened and the craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, it′s crew alive and well. That happened 50 years ago, today, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8. A mission that ended 1968 on a happy note. Also, on a profound one as it was not only a mission og exploration, but also of introspective. Three astronauts looked at the Earth from nearly 250,000 miles away, knowing that everyone they knew, everyone alive at that moment, was there on that small blue marble so far away. Seeing the TV images and photos from Apollo 8, we, too, shared that moment of profound reflection. On a mission to gain a deeper understanding of the universe about us, we also gained a deeper understanding of ourselves.



For more REAL NEWS and views follow Andrew Zarowny on Twitter @mrcapitalist. Also follow Andy at his own website, and look for his new blogs at Support this website via Patreon.

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