December 21st of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon. Astronauts Frank BormanJames Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth and orbit another celestial body. The mission was extremely risky. The Saturn V rocket had only launched twice before and never with a crew and on the previous launch there were engine shutdowns on the second stage (longer firing of the remaining engines saved the mission). Although there was no lunar lander on Apollo 8 , many key technologies and operations needed for a successful lunar landing mission were demonstrated for the first time such as translunar injection, command module navigation, communications, and midcourse corrections.

And all these tasks were performed with computer technology that was far less powerful than what runs a $10 wristwatch today. To get an appreciation for the state of the art in advanced compact computers in 1968, check out the free Apollo 8 Launch Emulator for Android created by astronomer Rick Boozer.

The program allows you to

operate a realistic replica of the Apollo 8 spacecraft’s guidance computer”.  

This app is not a traditional game (no winning or losing involved). It is also not an entire mission simulation. So, if you are looking for either of those, then don’t download this app. 

Instead, it is a commemoration of the launch of humankind’s first trip to another world by way of an emulation of a realistic Apollo Guidance Computer (or AGC) and DiSplay KeYboard interface (called DSKY).

You can re-enact the launch of the powerful Saturn V rocket that sent the Apollo 8 spacecraft with its crew on the way to the Moon on December 21, 1968. The animation you will see will not be of a flying rocket, but the mission critical true-to-life data displayed as it would have been shown in real-time to the astronauts as they ascended from the launch pad to Earth parking orbit. 

To add to the enjoyment of the experience, the app supplies optional English explanations of the data shown. Not only that, you will be continually informed of major events that occur at each mission critical point between launch and Earth orbit at the appropriate time.

As a bonus, you will be able to type in a small subset of the actual commands that the astronauts entered into the AGC via the DSKY and see relevant results. 

The program is available for free at the Google Play Store.

If, as in my case,  you don’t have an Android device, you can run the app on a PC or Mac computer by downloading the free NOX virtual Android device creator at www.bignox.com.

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