The Apollo 8 mission launched on Dec. 21, 1968 with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders on board. About two and half hours after liftoff, the S-IV third stage fired for a second time and put their spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. The crew members became the first humans to fly beyond low earth orbit.
The S-IV soon separated from the Apollo command service module and the spacecraft reached the Moon on Dec. 24th, going into orbit after the firing of the service module engine while on the far side. The crew orbited the Moon for 10 hours and would have been stuck there forever if the engine had not re-fired as planned. It did fire and the crew made it back to earth for a safe splashdown in the Pacific on Dec. 27th. The extremely risky mission was a tremendous success and its accomplishments made it possible for the US to achieve the goal set by John F. Kennedy of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.
I recently wrote about the audiobook version of Bob Zimmerman’s 1998 book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World. Today Bob reflects on the mission, his book, and the growing appreciation of the significance of the Apollo 8 mission, which had nearly been lost in the glow of Apollo 11: Apollo 8: Fifty years ago | Behind The Black.
What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.