Apollo 8: Around The Moon and Back

The famous'Earthrise

The famous'Earthrise

To this day, that 1968 mission is considered to be NASA's boldest and perhaps most risky undertaking.

As the three men orbited the moon as part of NASA's mission on December 24, 1968, the United States down below was experiencing tests to its unity as the country fought for equal rights and social justice during the civil rights movement.

The 1968 Apollo 8 mission was crucial in the race to get a man on the moon. Scrambling for a roll of colour film, to capture this awesome view, Anders snapped the now famous "Earthrise" picture. If that went well, Anders' next flight would surely be a trip to the moon. The Apollo 8 crew would still fly, but their destination would be lunar orbit, but minus the lunar lander. To those watching the grainy video feed, it marked an astonishing end to a year filled with war, civil unrest and assassinations. "Someone sent a telegram to NASA, 'Thank you for saving 1968'".

In the summer of 1968, astronaut Frank Borman was deep into training as the mission leader to test the Apollo command and lunar modules in Earth orbit. NASA hopes that the planned manned missions to the planet will help human beings learn skills and develop technology to enable a future landing of many people. But 1968 was a turbulent time in the United States. There were so many questions, so many unknowns, so many things that could go wrong.

"We were going around the moon ... and after our third revolution, Frank Borman started repositioning the spacecraft so it would be pointing forward", he says.

"My main concern in this whole flight was to get there ahead of the Russians and get home". Robert Kurson wrote about the mission in a new book entitled "Rocket Men".

Everyone eventually agreed: Ten orbits it would be. But there he was, on the launchpad on December 21, 1968.

Christmas Eve. The astronauts have completed three full orbits of the moon. The three men appeared in a live broadcast on Christmas Eve, and read Bible passages from Genesis. It had been left to Borman, before the flight, to find "something appropriate" to say for what was expected to be the biggest broadcast audience to date. The conversations in the spacecraft at the time were captured by an on-board voice recorder.

To the relief of mission controllers, fixes added by engineers aimed at reducing the vibrations (of "pogo") that had almost led to the loss of the previous Saturn V launch worked, and the combined stack of the S-IVB third stage, service module and command module were slotted into Earth orbit. Lovell broke the nervous silence as the ship reappeared: "Please be informed there is a Santa Claus".

"Yes, I'm looking for one", Lovell said. Lovell bought the coat for his wife and arranged its fancy delivery before liftoff. Look at that picture over there. The earth is coming up. "Wow, is that pretty!"

Anders did. But only one of the pictures would be the one that mattered.

Many have pointed out the irony of the photo, since Apollo 8 was sent to study and take pictures of the Moon's surface - not Earth.

"Well, I think we missed it", said Anders, equal parts disappointed and irritated.

According to NASA, this image is thought to have sparked the modern environmental movement. It remains a legacy of Apollo and humanity's achievement, said professor emeritus John Logsdon of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, forever underscoring the absence of political borders as seen from space.

A thorough investigation, including reconstruction of the scene as it took place, was then used to prove that the image was in fact taken by Anders. "I want people to come to Oshkosh and enjoy this'".

Astronaut-artist Nicole Stott said the golden anniversary provides an opportunity to reintroduce the world to Earthrise.

"The three Americans occupying the module of the Saturn V rocket that Saturday morning 50 years ago at Florida's Kennedy Space Center weren't thinking of the turbulence on Earth".

But it was Apollo 8 that, for the first time ever, proved the moon was within reach of human hands.

Admitting he is not a "very popular guy" due to his opinions, Mr Anders added: "I think NASA's lucky to have what they've got - which is still hard, in my mind, to justify".

Initially, both Borman and Anders claimed responsibility for the now-famous picture.

Lovell also flew on ill-fated Apollo 13, which had to abort plans to land on the moon after an explosion in an oxygen tank.

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