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To Another World

By Larry Klaes

Years after Apollo, I ran into Frank Borman in a pilot’s lounge at a southern airport. I was waiting for a student who wanted to use the lowering weather to practice instrument approaches. Borman was just passing through. Then CEO of Eastern Airlines, he was accompanied by lawyers and was busy signing papers. I wanted to tell Apollo 8’s commander what that mission had meant to me, but I found myself completely tongue-tied. How to even begin to express what that first human presence around the Moon meant to all of us, and how to say it in ways that hadn’t been said a thousand times before? Larry Klaes is, fortunately, at no such loss of words as he describes what many still see as the most daring mission ever flown, and the stunning images and audio it sent back on that Christmas Eve forty years ago.

On Christmas Eve in 1968, three men took turns reading aloud from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Such an event might not be terribly unusual then or now, considering the time of year in which it took place.


But the three people in question were no ordinary men, and they were speaking in no ordinary place. They were astronauts, and they were reading the ancient Christian story of the creation of heaven and Earth while in the heavens themselves aboard a silvery, conical spacecraft, with a view no other human being had ever witnessed in person before – from the vicinity of the Moon a quarter of a million miles away.

Image: The flight crew of the Apollo 8 mission, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders, hold a replica of the Collier Trophy awarded for their historic first flight to the Moon. Credit on this and photos below: NASA.

Forty years ago this month, American astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders were launched aboard a spacecraft named after an ancient god of many talents to become the first humans to ever leave low Earth orbit, where all previous manned space missions had stayed since the first one just seven years earlier, and venture to our planet’s only natural satellite.

It would be nice to say the mission of Apollo 8 was done purely in the spirit of adventure to gain new knowledge about the Universe. Certainly there was that element to this space expedition. However, Apollo was also created to best a rival nation with its own space program that had beaten the United States with numerous firsts into the void.


America’s chief opponent of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, had, in just over one decade, placed into Earth orbit the first satellite, living creature (a dog), man, woman, and conducted the first spacewalk. Further out, the Soviets also claimed the first robot spacecraft to land on the Moon and Venus. The communist nation had even sent a collection of plants and animals around the Moon aboard a spacecraft named Zond 5 just months before the launch of Apollo 8, returning them safely to Earth.

Image: A launch like no other, one that suddenly expanded our thinking beyond Earth orbit with a single, daring thrust.

The Zond vessel was a modified version of the Soviets’ then-new Soyuz manned spacecraft. It was evident to Western analysts that the Soviets were getting ready to send several cosmonauts to the Moon with their Zond, certainly to circle the distant globe and perhaps even to land upon it. With the prospect of the foreign superpower outdoing the Americans yet again with another and quite major space first, Apollo 8’s original mission to fly in a high Earth orbit was dramatically changed.


The new goal of Apollo 8 was to have three astronauts travel approximately 240,000 miles across space to orbit the Moon at least ten times before returning to our planet. Apollo had flown only once before with a human crew, orbiting just a few hundreds miles above our blue and white globe. The Lunar Module, the component of Apollo that would take two astronauts all the way to the lunar surface, was not ready yet to accompany the Command/Service Module (CSM) portions of the mission, so the astronauts would be traveling to the Moon without what would later become known as a “lifeboat” for the spacemen. Ironically, Command Module Pilot Lovell would have his life saved by a Lunar Module just two years later when a CSM oxygen tank exploded during the Apollo 13 mission, aborting the planned lunar landing and forcing the crew to use their Lunar Module to help get them home alive.

Image: Apollo 8 was all about changes in perspective. Suddenly we were seeing the Earth whole. Look closely and you can see nearly the entire Western Hemisphere, from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, including nearby Newfoundland, to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. Central America is clearly outlined. Nearly all of South America is covered by clouds except the high Andes mountain chain along the west coast.

Apollo 8 lifted off from Cape Kennedy in Florida on December 21, 1968 with the help from one of the most powerful rockets ever built, the Saturn 5. Three hundred and sixty-three feet tall, the Saturn rocket weighed over six million pounds and could loft 100,000 pounds to the Moon. No humans had ever ridden on such an incredible booster before, but thankfully the Saturn 5 worked as planned, sending Borman, Lovell, and Anders on a three day journey across space to Earth’s nearest neighbor.

When Apollo 8 arrived at the Moon on Christmas Eve, the astronauts began taking hundreds of images of the lunar surface, which Lovell described as “essentially gray, no color, looks like plaster of Paris or sort of a grayish beach sand.” Fascinating as it was to be orbiting an alien world closer than anyone had done before, the Moon was clearly a place where unprotected life from Earth would have no chance of surviving.

It was during this day of historical accomplishment and the reading of Genesis from the Bible that the crew of Apollo 8 made another important contribution to the uplifting of their species. The astronauts became the first people to witness the rising of their home planet above the lunar surface. The seemingly small orb with its bright blue oceans and white clouds stood out in stark contrast with the grayish Moon and the utter blackness of space all around. The photographs taken by the astronauts of that incredible sight did much to bring home to the people living on Earth of the finite nature of their world that they all shared. These images of our planet from deep space taken by Apollo 8 and subsequent lunar missions have often been credited with being the catalyst for the modern environmental movement.


Image: One of humanity’s most famous images, this one caught a contrast that highlighted what it means to be a living world.

“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth,” remarked Anders on the images he took during the mission.

Apollo 8 returned to that “meadow in the sky,” as Earth would later be called on December 27, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The space capsule is now on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Though humans stopped going to the Moon in person after Apollo 17 in late 1972, there are plans for new manned expeditions in the coming decades, including permanently manned bases on the lunar surface. Those future explorers will have to thank the bold mission that paved the way for them four decades ago.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James M. Essig December 24, 2008, 18:10

    Hi Folks;

    I think the above story is an excellent Christmas Eve story, for those of any faithbased beliefs, those who hold that they have no religious beliefs, and those who state that they are agnostic. Regardless of our religious orientation or lack thereof, we all share a fundamental moral equality and are brothers and sisters as routed deeply within our humanity. As we come together to be with our families, colleagues, friends, and /or our relatives this holiday season, we can ponder the imcomprehensable vastness of the entirety of creation that already exists and that which is yet to exist with a sense of spiritual wonderment.

    I would like to wish both of you Paul Gilster and Marc Millis, and all of the many other fine intellects who view and/or post comments here at Tau Zero a very Happy Christmas.

    Best Regards;


  • Administrator December 24, 2008, 19:48

    Thanks very much, Jim. And happy holidays to all Centauri Dreams readers!

  • David December 25, 2008, 11:17

    Many thanks for the story. Since the fall of the USSR, we now know how close the Soviets came to launching a manned spacecraft around the moon before Apollo 8. The two unmanned Zond missions around the Moon while successful, did have some glitches, but the cosmonauts pleaded with the space officials that the early December 1968 launch be manned. They went as far as petitioning the Kremlin, but were again knocked back. I sometimes think that had the Soviets succeeded or if they did not kill their own Moon program in the early 70’s, then
    the Apollo program may not have been terminated.

  • James M. Essig December 26, 2008, 15:08

    Hi David;

    Very interesting comments!

    If we had continued with the Apollo Program, perhaps due to Russia’s would be launch of a manned Lunar mission, we might not only have continued the Apollo Program, but perhaps have established an off world Lunar outpost and perhaps have gone on to Mars by the year 2000.

    I am however, greatly encourage by the expressed desire of the various technological powers on Earth including the U.S. to send humans back to the Moon by roughly 2020. At last count, I believe if I am not mistaken, that the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and India have expressed such a desire with their own space programs. I do not remember whether or not I recall the EU space agency mentioning plans, but I would not be surprised if they are going tp be players here also.

    I am greatly encourged by the fact that NASA is going to allow the Ad Astra Rocket Company to test its VASIMR rocket aboard the ISS in 2009. This first of a kind plasma rocket should enable manned missions to Mars in just 39 days transit time. “Ad Astra Spacelines” here we come!



  • ljk December 30, 2008, 12:17
  • ljk December 30, 2008, 13:18

    Happy Birthday Earthrise

    Dr. Christopher Riley, BBC News

    December 24, 2008

    Forty years ago, the biggest TV audience in history tuned in to watch humankind’s first close encounter with another world, as the crew of Apollo 8 reached lunar orbit. Here, the Apollo historian and film-maker Dr Christopher Riley gives his perspective on the mission and how that Christmas Eve of 1968 changed the world.

    Back in 1948, the British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle predicted that when spaceflight enabled us to see the whole Earth from space, the view would change us forever.

    Hoyle would have to wait another 20 years before humans would get to see this view with their own eyes, when the crew of Apollo 8 became the first astronauts to leave Earth orbit.

    By then, a handful of satellites had snapped a number of breathtaking portraits of the Earth from afar and even a stunning shot of the Earth rising above the Moon’s surface from lunar orbit. Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Isn’t that something…

    But on Christmas Eve 1968, none of the astronauts on board Apollo 8 were ready for the opportunity to witness their own Earthrise.

    In all the months of training and preparation which had preceded the mission, no-one had thought to schedule an attempt for the crew to glimpse and record the most moving of sights, as their jewel of a home planet, suspended in the blackness of space, rose from behind the barren lunar horizon.

    Full article here:


  • ljk January 4, 2009, 19:26

    40th anniversary tribute to Apollo 8 from Music of the Spheres,
    complete with CGI of the mission:


  • ljk February 9, 2009, 18:22

    Chasing the Zond

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    In 1968 a US Navy vessel got to witness the recovery of a Soviet capsule during the height of the race for the Moon. Dwayne Day describes this incident and what influence, if any, it had on NASA’s decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon.


  • ljk March 23, 2009, 9:50

    Review: Earthrise

    Arguably one of the most influential images of the Space Age was that of the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon as seen by Apollo 8. Eve Lichtgarn reviews a book that examines the history behind that image and its effect on society.

    Monday, March 23, 2009


  • ljk July 17, 2009, 10:19

    The Big Picture from The Boston Globe has 40 slightly nice photos from
    the Apollo 11 mission here:


    While looking through them, I was reminded that one of the images,
    which is listed as Number 18 in the Big Picture showing a gibbous phase
    Earth, is on the two Voyager Interstellar Records representing our planet
    now well past Pluto and on their way into the wider Milky Way galaxy.

    So it is nice to know that in addition to what is at Tranquility Base
    something else from Apollo 11 will be preserved in space for many millions
    of years, if not billions, for our descendants or others to see one day.

  • ljk July 17, 2009, 14:58

    How going to the Moon helped us find Earth:


  • ljk January 18, 2011, 22:09

    What if Apollo 8 had gotten stuck in lunar orbit:


  • ljk May 3, 2011, 9:17

    Apparently that microbe which went to the Moon with Surveyor 3 in 1967 and came back with Apollo 12 in 1969 never left Earth to begin with:


  • ljk May 6, 2011, 12:26

    Space Adventures Wants to Fly You to the Moon

    by Nancy Atkinson on May 5, 2011

    Space Adventures – the company that brought the first space tourists to the International Space Station – has longer space tourist excursions planned for as early as 2015: a trip around the Moon.

    Company chairman Eric Anderson said during a teleconference they have sold the first of the two seats on their circumlunar flight program, and once the second seat is sold and finalized they could fly the first private mission to the Moon in 4 years.

    How will the commercial lunar tour work?

    Full article and mission diagram here:


  • ljk April 23, 2012, 13:54

    Earthrise, Revisited

    by Jason Major on April 23, 2012

    On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders and Jim Lovell were the first humans to witness an Earthrise as our home planet came up over the lunar horizon. The photos they captured were the first of their kind, instantly inspiring the imaginations of millions and highlighting the beauty and fragility of our world.

    Now, NASA has used modern satellite data to recreate the scenes that the Apollo 8 astronauts saw 44 years ago and combined them with their historic photographs to present a new “Earthrise”… version 2.0.

    Created in recognition of Earth Day 2012, the Earthrise animation was made from data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s laser altimeter, as well as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra Earth-observing satellite.

    “This visualization recreates for everyone the wondrous experience of seeing Earth from that privileged viewpoint,” says LRO Project Scientist Rich Vondrak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

    Animator Ernie Wright recreated the scene using Apollo mission reports and photos taken by the crew. The audio is a recording of original communication from the astronauts.

    Full article and video here:


  • ljk April 24, 2012, 13:00

    The Family that Went to the Moon

    by Jason Major on April 24, 2012

    Well, the family photo, anyway.

    On April 23, 1972, Apollo 16 astronauts Charlie Duke and John Young embarked on the third and final EVA of the mission, exploring the Descartes Highlands via Lunar Roving Vehicle. During the EVA, before setting up a Solar Wind Collector, Duke placed a small family photo he had brought along onto the lunar surface and snapped a few photos of it with his Hasselblad film camera. This is one of the photos.

    The portrait shows Charlie, his wife Dorothy, and their two sons Charles and Thomas. It looks like they are sitting on a bench in the summertime.

    The family photo, gingerly wrapped in clear plastic and slightly crumpled from being stashed in the pocket of a space suit, was left on the Moon. It presumably still sits there today, just inches away from Charlie’s boot print — which, presumably, is also there.

    Full article here:


  • ljk January 2, 2013, 10:03

    44 Years Ago Today: Apollo 8′s Historic Broadcast from the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968

    Posted on December 24, 2012 by launiusr

    Hard to believe, it was 44 years ago today that the crew of Apollo 8 made their historic broadcast from the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968. Launched on December 21, 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders became the first human beings to venture beyond low Earth orbit and visit another world. The Apollo 8 crew rode inside the command module, with no lunar lander attached. They were the first astronauts to be launched by the Saturn V, which had flown only twice before.

    As Apollo 8 traveled outward the crew focused a portable television camera on Earth and for the first time humanity saw its home from afar, a tiny, lovely, and fragile “blue marble” hanging in the blackness of space. When it arrived at the Moon on Christmas Eve and for the next twenty hours the astronauts circled the Moon, which appeared out their windows as a gray, battered wasteland.

    The crew’s Christmas Eve broadcast in the midst of a tumultuous 1968—the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, race riots in virtually every major city, anti-war rallies and confrontations—helped to bring together if only for a brief time the disparate thread of the nation. The crew read from the first part of the Bible—”God created the heavens and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void”—before sending Christmas greetings to humanity.

    Full article here plus a video clip:


  • ljk January 4, 2013, 16:24

    A Moon With a View

    By Julianne Dalcanton | December 13, 2012 3:34 pm

    This weekend the Seattle Times published a lovely interview with Bill Anders, one of the Apollo astronauts. The article is full of interesting little tidbits, but I was most taken with his description of taking photos while his capsule orbited the moon:

    While he had been meticulously trained to photograph the moon, making pretty pictures of the Earth from space had not occurred to anyone at NASA. So Anders, with no light meter and really no idea where to start, improvised.

    “I had to bracket (the exposure),” he says. “I’m just going click-click-click-click-click, just changing that f-stop up and back. I machine-gunned that mother.”

    The resulting picture was one of the most famous from the Apollo program — the classic NASA “Earthshine” photo. Which, the article reveals, has actually been “printed backwards for more than 40 years because of a NASA mistake”. [Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures art project shows the image positioned correctly for future generations.]

    Full article here:


  • ljk April 17, 2013, 19:18


    By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2013 8:10 AM

    Apollo 13

    “Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the service module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17.”

    Keith’s note: This invoice was sent by Grumman Management to North American Rockwell for charges associated with the Grumman LEM towing Rockwell’s CSM back to Earth.

    Larger image: