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  • Writer's pictureAeryn Avilla

All of You on the Good Earth: 10 Fun Facts About Apollo 8

Updated: Jul 9

Last year, we celebrated the 55th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the second manned Apollo mission and the first manned flight to the moon. The mission's commander was Gemini 7 veteran Frank Borman. The command module pilot was Jim Lovell, Borman's Gemini 7 crewmate and former command pilot of Gemini 12. Rookie Bill Anders of NASA's third class of astronauts was designated the lunar module pilot, despite the mission not having a Lunar Module. Let's take a look at ten interesting facts about Apollo 8!


Apollo 8 crew

CDR Borman, LMP Anders, and CMP Lovell with capsule (NASA)


1. From Russia, With Love

The story of Apollo 8 began in the spring of 1968 on the other side of the world. While flying over the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Soviet Kazakhstan, a National Reconnaissance Office CORONA spy satellite captured photos of a massive rocket on a launch pad. The CIA concluded that the Soviet Union was preparing for a lunar mission during the latter half of the year, and speculation the vehicle, revealed later to be infamous N1 moon rocket, was manned prompted Apollo program directors to make one of the most crucial decisions in American space history.


At the time, the objectives and crews of Apollo 8 and Apollo 9 were different. Apollo 8 was crewed by James McDivitt, David Scott, and Rusty Schweickart with the objective of testing the new Lunar Module in low Earth orbit in December 1968. Apollo 9 was crewed by Frank Borman, Michael Collins, and Bill Anders with the objective of testing the LM in an elliptical medium Earth orbit in early 1969. Collins was replaced by Jim Lovell, assigned to Apollo 11, when the former was removed from active flight duty to undergo surgery. Delays in LM production meant McDivitt's crew would not be ready to fly the spacecraft by the end of the year, jeopardizing NASA's probability of landing men on the moon by the end of the decade. Furthermore, news of a possible Soviet moonshot threatened the country's chance of sending the first humans to the moon.


While no single person took credit for the proposal, Bob Gilruth, director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, George Low, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, and flight director Chris Kraft hatched a plan to ensure that Kennedy's goal was met and that American boots were the first to touch the lunar surface. Since the LM would definitely not be ready to fly until early 1969, the late 1968 flight slot would be filled by a manned mission to the moon. Because McDivitt and his crew had more experience with the LM than Borman's trio, Director of Flight Crew Operations (and Mercury astronaut) Deke Slayton offered the circumlunar flight to Borman. Accepting the assignment allowed Borman to carry out the real reason he joined the space program— to beat the Ruskis to the moon.


Original Apollo 9 crew

The original crew of Apollo 9— Anders, Collins, and Borman (NASA)


2. Patch Me Through

The mission insignia for Apollo 8 was sketched by Lovell while riding in the backseat of a NASA T-38 from California to Texas after learning about the mission's new destination and was inspired by two existing emblems. Allen Stevens, the designer of the Apollo 1 and Apollo 7 patches, created an insignia for the "old" Apollo 9 crew prior to the mission's re-designation that featured three horses inside an Apollo command module-shaped triangle [1]. Around the same time, the Mission Planning and Analysis Division of the Manned Spacecraft Center adopted a logo consisting of an abstract stylization of a circumlunar trajectory. Lovell's sketch combined the CM shape with the depiction of a circumlunar trajectory and produced an insignia that reflects the purpose of the mission without excessive detail. Further, the red figure "8" shape indicates the mission number as well as the path the spacecraft will take. Stevens' original design was produced into an embroidered patch for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo program.


Allen Stevens' patch, the MPAD emblem that appeared on the covers of documents, and the official Apollo 8 insignia (Allen Stevens/Tim Gagnon / Gene Dorr / NASA)


3. Lucky Lindy

The night before launch, the crew, now living in the crew quarters at the Kennedy Space Center, received a visit from famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh [2]. In 1927, "Lucky Lindy" as he was called, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York City to Paris, France, in his aircraft Spirit of St. Louis. He was also Time magazine's first Man of the Year in 1928 (remember that for later) and was appointed to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. According to Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger, Lindbergh spoke to the three astronauts about the earliest days of aviation, his military service, and meeting Robert Goddard, the inventor of the liquid-fueled rocket. As the astronauts talked about the Saturn V, Lindbergh scribbled something on a piece of paper before telling the trio that they will use ten times more fuel in the first second of liftoff than he used on his entire flight. a Rather than watch liftoff the next morning in the VIP section, Lindbergh witnessed history being made once again in private on the beach.


Charles Lindbergh with Apollo 8 crew and President Johnson

Lindbergh (standing far left) with the crews of Apollo 7 and Apollo 8, Lady Bird Johnson and President Lyndon B. Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey at a White House dinner party honoring the Apollo program (NASA)


4. We Choose to Go to the Moon

Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight to launch from the Kennedy Space Center. Launch Complex 39, as well as the Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch Control Center, crawlerway, crawler transporters, and Mobile Launch Platforms, were constructed specifically for the Apollo program. Existing complexes on Cape Canaveral were too small to support Saturn V launches so in 1962, the Launch Operations Center (LOC) was established on Merritt Island, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (as it was known at the time). Construction of the center began in November 1962 and in November 1963, one week after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, the LOC was renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center under Executive Order 11129. Launch Complexes 39 A and B were completed by late 1965. KSC has seen countless changes to its 144,000 acres (580 square km) over the past sixty years and remains America's primary launch center.


Apollo 8 crew with Saturn V rocket

The Apollo 8 crew in front of their spacecraft as it rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39A (NASA)


5. Like a Rat in the Jaws of a Terrier

Apollo 8 was also the first manned launch of the mighty Saturn V rocket. The first launch of the vehicle, Apollo 4, occurred on November 9, 1967 and was surprisingly successful. Apollo 6, which launched on April 4, 1968, experienced three major problems during its flight, the most concerning of which was the severe pogo oscillation during launch. Borman and Lovell, both Gemini veterans, noted that the g-forces of the Saturn V launch were lighter than they had been on Titan launches but that the vibration in the cockpit was much more severe. In the following decades, Anders would compare the sensation to being a "rat in the jaws of a terrier." Nine more manned Saturn V launches would take place until December 1972.


Apollo 8 launch

Apollo 8 launching from LC-39A at 7:51 a.m. EST (NASA)


6. It's Not Easy Being Green

The first documented case of space motion sickness (SMS) occurred during Apollo 8 [3]. Although all three crew members experienced slight dizziness and nausea as their bodies adjusted to microgravity, Borman was hit the hardest. On previous missions (aside from Apollo 7), the habitable volume inside the spacecraft was too small for astronauts to float around, instead confined to their couches. The Apollo capsule had a habitable volume of 218 cubic feet (6.2 cubic meters), allowing astronauts to float from end to end of the spacecraft and even over each other with ease.


SMS affects about a third of astronauts during their first few days in space and is caused by the mismatch of information sent to the brain by the vestibular system and the eyes known as sensory conflict. Symptoms range from mild disorientation and headaches to vomiting. There is no way to tell if an astronaut will experience SMS, as prior space or aviation experience has no impact. The most severe SMS ever recorded was experienced by Senator Jake Garn, the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space onboard STS-51D Discovery in 1985. Despite being a veteran Navy combat pilot with more flight hours than anyone else in the Astronaut Office, he is best remembered as the namesake of NASA's informal SMS measuring tool the "Garn scale".


Frank Borman inside Apollo 8 spacecraft

Borman inside his Apollo spacecraft (NASA)


7. I'll See You on the Dark Side of the Moon

After nearly three days of travel, the Apollo 8 spacecraft was placed in orbit around the moon and its crew became the first human beings to see the lunar surface up-close. During their ten orbits, the crew photographed planned future landing sites, specifically one in Mare Tranquillitatis, or the Sea of Tranquility, selected for Apollo 11. One landmark spotted by Jim Lovell was a triangular mountain to the east of the Sea of Tranquility he named Mount Marilyn after his wife. It served as a key navigation landmark during Apollo 11's lunar descent.


The crew also became the first humans to see the far side of the moon (with their own eyes— the first photos of the far side were taken by the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 in 1959...with American film), as well as an "Earthrise" [4]. As the spacecraft emerged from behind the moon for its fourth pass, the crew witnessed the Earth appearing from behind the lunar horizon. Frank Borman and Bill Anders captured the event in black-and-white and color photographs, Anders' color photo Earthrise is still to this day one of the most iconic photos ever taken.


Far side of the moon seen by Apollo 8

Far side of the moon taken by the Apollo 8 crew (NASA)


8. The Fighting Lady

On December 27, Apollo 8 was recovered by the USS Yorktown, an Essex-class aircraft carrier built for the US Navy during World War II. She was commissioned in April 1943 and nicknamed the "Fighting Lady" for her significant participation in the Pacific theater, ending with the defeat of Japan in 1945. She operated as an attack carrier for jet aircraft beginning in 1950 and was re-designated an anti-submarine aircraft carrier in 1957. She received the Presidential Unit Citation and 16 battle stars for her service in World War II and the Vietnam War and was decommissioned in 1970, shortly after serving as the recovery vessel for Apollo 8.


Yorktown is now a museum ship at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and is one of only three remaining space capsule recovery ships, the other two being the USS Hornet (Apollo 11 and Apollo 12) and the USS Intrepid (Mercury-Atlas 7 and Gemini 3). On display are a hook that was part of the tackle used to lift Apollo 8 aboard the carrier and a piece of the spacecraft's heat shield retained by a crewmember.


Apollo 8's capsule is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois.


Crew of Apollo 8 on deck of USS Yorktown

Borman, Anders, and Lovell on the deck of Yorktown (NASA)


9. You Saved 1968

1968 was one of the most turbulent years in modern history across the globe. In the US, police and protesters fought at the Chicago Democratic National Convention while students across the country protested American involvement in the Vietnam War. The political assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the election of President Richard Nixon added fuel to the fire. In Eastern Europe, Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring while in Vietnam, North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive, killing more than 2,600 Americans. Worst of all, the Beatles released "Revolution 9".


Apollo 8 was a shimmer of hope for the future during one of the darkest years in history. As the year came to a close, Borman received a telegram from an anonymous sender that simply said, "Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968."


Time magazine named Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders as its Men of the Year for 1968, fifty years after its first honoree, Charles Lindbergh.


Apollo 8 Time Men of the Year

The crew of Apollo 8 on the cover of Time magazine (Time)


10. In the Beginning

Approximately one billion people across 64 countries tuned into the crew's second broadcast on the night of Christmas Eve. Prior to leaving Earth, Borman was advised to "say something appropriate" to not just all the folks back home celebrating Christmas, but that would resonate with as many people as possible. While showing viewers the lunar surface from orbit, the three men took turns reading the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis, which serves as the creation narrative for the three Abrahamic religions. Borman closed the broadcast with, "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you— all of you on the good Earth."


Not everyone was as moved by the crew's words, though. Enter Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the president of the American Atheists. In 1969, her and her son attempted to sue NASA Administrator Thomas Paine and the US government for violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which prohibits the mixing of religion and the government. Her goal was to ban all American astronauts— government employees— from practicing religion in space. The Supreme Court rejected the case for lack of jurisdiction in outer space.


Apollo 8 commemorative stamp

Commemorative stamp depicting Earthrise and the beginning of the first verse from Genesis (public domain)


Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to the moon and one of the most significant space missions of all time. It ended one of the most chaotic years in history on a hopeful note and prepared NASA for 1969, the year it would land men on the moon.


This post is dedicated to Colonel Frank F. Borman, who passed away less than two months before the 55th anniversary of his history mission on November 7, 2023.


Apollo 8 crew in 2018

Anders, Borman, and Lovell in 2018 for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 (Time)




Author's note: Even though it's a little late, thanks for reading and be sure to like and share!


 

[1] I find it interesting that this original Apollo 9/8 patch design contained three horses. Lovell's Apollo 13 mission patch was inspired by Lumen Winter's mural "The Steeds of Apollo", a painting of four horses.

[2] In 1930, she became the first woman to receive a U.S. glider pilot license.

[3] The very first case of SMS is suspected to be Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov who experienced dizziness and nausea during his historic 1961 Vostok 2 flight.

[4] The first photo of an Earthrise was taken by NASA's Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966.


 

Bibliography

Intellectual Properties that I don't own

  • "Bein' Green" — written by Joe Raposo, originally performed by Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

  • "Brain Damage" — written by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd from the album Dark Side of the Moon, 1973.


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