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The Essence of the Human Spirit: Apollo 8

I think of Apollo 8 in terms of transformation. As Al Jackson explains so well in the essay that follows, a lunar mission in December of 1968 seemed impossible for NASA and pushed technologies and procedures not yet tested into immediate action. But if Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders got Apollo back on its arbitrary and highly dangerous schedule, they did something as well for a college kid watching on TV that savage year. Seeing the crew’s images of the lunar surface and hearing their reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve knowing that their lives hung in the balance later that night turned me into an optimist. We must never devalue human accomplishment with the self-congratulatory irony so prevalent in the post-Apollo period. No, Apollo 8 was huge. It distilled our values of passion, courage and commitment, and its example will resonate long after we’ve sent our first probes to the stars.

By Albert Jackson

“Please be informed there is a Santa Claus”
— Jim Lovell (Post TEI December 25 1968)

“Sir, it wasn’t how you looked, it was how you smelled.”
— Navy Seal frogman to astronaut William Anders, explaining his reaction to opening the Apollo 8 capsule.

Author’s Personal Note: I was 28 years old in December 1968, and had aimed myself at space ever since reading the Collier’s magazine spaceflight series. The first issue was March 22 1952, when I was 11 years old. The series came to an end in the April 30, 1954 issue that asked ‘Can We Get to Mars?’ I was 13 then and remember Wernher Von Braun writing that it would take 25 years to get to Mars, I was downcast! That was too long. I came to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Jan 1966 and in time became an instructor for the Lunar Module training simulator. I did not train the Apollo 8 crew but I was in Building 4 Christmas Eve at a second floor small remote control room listening to the flight controller’s loop. It was very exciting, after Lunar Orbit Insertion, to hear acquisition of signal and confirmed orbit at approximately 4 am Houston time. I walked over to building 2 (building 1 these days) and got a cup of coffee. On the way back, I looked into a cold, about 35 deg F clear Houston night sky at a waxing crescent winter cold moon for about 15 minutes and thought wow! There are humans in orbit up there.

Making It Happen

Mandated with going to the moon before 1970 you have the following: a launch vehicle that has seventy anomalies on its last unmanned flight; three engines have failed; there are severe pogo problems; and the vehicle has yet to fly with a human crew. You have a spacecraft that has been re-engineered after a terrible disaster. You have a whole suite of on-board and ground software that has never been tested in a full non-simulation mission. You have a large ground tracking network not yet used to working a manned mission at the lunar distance. You have only four months to plan and train for a manned flight no one has ever done before. Four months out, the Pacific fleet was expecting a Christmas break, and no recovery ship might be available. The crew would have no Lunar Module ‘lifeboat’. No human had ever escaped the gravity of the Earth. Facing a terrible array of unknowns, your decision? ‘You’ are George Low, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. No hesitation… an orbital flight to the moon! [1, 2, 5]

Problems with achieving a lunar landing mission in 1969 made themselves manifest in the spring of 1968, when the delivery of the Lunar Module slipped. However, troubles with the Saturn V during the Apollo V launch test seemed on the way to solution by late spring. The concept of circumlunar flight goes back to Jules Verne, with the technical aspects laid out by Herman Oberth in 1923. In the 1960’s the flight planning documents for the Apollo program had laid out all the astrodynamics of the trajectory [7]. Problems with the Lunar Module looked as if the first moon landing might be pushed off into 1970.

Image: George Low with the iconic Wernher von Braun. Credit: NASA.

Placed against this, the Soviet Union was still actively pursuing a lunar landing, especially the possibility of a circumlunar flight in 1968. In April of 1968, both George Low of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC, later JSC) and Director of Flight Operations Chris Kraft started thinking about a lunar flight. By August of 1968, George Low decided the only solution to a lunar landing in 1969 was to fly to the moon before 1968 was out. [1, 2, 5]

The 9th of August 1968 was a very eventful day. Between 8:45 and 10 am, Low, Gilruth (MSC director), Kraft, and director of Flight Crew Operations Donald K. Slayton, after a breathless morning meeting at MSC, set up a meeting at Marshall Space Flight Center with its director Wernher von Braun, Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips and Kennedy Space Flight Center director Kurt Debus at 2:30 pm that same day. At this meeting they finalized a plan to present to senior NASA management that if Apollo 7 were successful, Apollo 8 should not just go circumlunar but into lunar orbit in December of 1968. [1, 2, 5]

On that same August 9th, Slayton called Frank Borman and had him come to Houston from California and asked him if he wanted to go to the moon. He said yes, went back to California and told James Lovell and William Anders. They were enthusiastic. They all came back to Houston to start training. [1, 2, 5]

On August 15th, Deputy Administrator Thomas Paine, Director of the Apollo program, finally got approval from Administrator for Manned Space Flight George Mueller and NASA Administrator James Webb to move ahead with Apollo 8’s moon flight, contingent on the Apollo 7 mission. Therefore, before a manned version of the Command and Service Module had flown, a decision to go to the moon had been made. Planning and preparations for the Apollo 8 mission proceeded toward launch readiness on December 6, 1968. [1, 2, 5] {3], {4}.

Image: The crew: Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman. Credit: NASA.

Critical Factors

On September 9, the crew entered the Command Module Simulator to begin their preparation for the flight. By the time the mission flew, the crew would have spent seven hours training for every actual hour of flight. Although all crew members were trained in all aspects of the mission, it was necessary to specialize. Borman, as commander, was given training on controlling the spacecraft during the re-entry. Lovell was trained on navigating the spacecraft in case communication was lost with the Earth. Anders was placed in charge of checking that the spacecraft was in working order. [1, 2, 5]

September, October and November of 1968 were three months of intense planning , training and work by the Mission Planning & Analysis Division (MPAD) {1}, Flight Crew Operations Directorate (FCOD) and Flight Operations Directorate (FOD). The Manned Spacecraft Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center had a lot on their plates! [1, 2, 5]

  • Marshall had to certify the Saturn V for its first manned spaceflight. (8) {2}
  • MPAD had to plan for the first manned vehicle to leave the earth’s gravitational field.
  • MOD and FCOD had to plan and train for the first Lunar flight.
  • MIT had to prepare for the first manned mission using a computer to perform guidance, navigation and control from the Earth to another celestial body.
  • The various Apollo contractors had to prepare every hardware aspect of a Command Module for both transfer in Earth-moon space and orbit operations around the moon.
  • The MSC Lunar scientists had to formulate a plan for photographic exploration of the moon from lunar orbit. The science community had to examine and plan for the radiation environment in trans Earth-Lunar space.
  • KSC had to plan and train for the first manned Saturn V launch.
  • MSC and Apollo contractors had to plan for the first ever hyperbolic re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere of a manned spacecraft.

That is just some of the problems to be solved!

Apollo 8 was a milestone flight for the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN), since it was the first test of the network during a mission to the moon. Prior to the mission, concerns were raised regarding small terrestrial errors found in tracking tests that could be magnified to become much larger navigation errors at lunar distances. For assistance in the matter, MSC turned to JPL to look into their navigation system and techniques. JPL personnel, experienced in lunar navigation, proved very helpful as they assisted in locating tracking station location inaccuracies within Houston MCC software. These erroneous values would have manifested themselves as large tracking measurement errors at lunar distances. The tracking station location fixes were implemented less than two days prior to the launch of Apollo 8.

Of special note was Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra in Australia. It had a prime role for many of the first-time critical operations, acquisition of signal after Lunar Orbit Insertion, prime for post-Trans Earth Injection and prime for reentry. [3]

Image: Honeysuckle Creek station, famous for its role in receiving and relaying Neil Armstrong’s image from the lunar surface as he set foot on the moon in 1969, but equally critical in communicating with Apollo 8. Credit: Al Jackson.

Approval and Launch

The success of Apollo 7, flown October 11-22 1968, paved the way. On November 10 and 11th, NASA studied the Apollo 8 mission, approved it and made the public announcement on the 12th. {3}

Apollo 8 was launched from KSC Launch Complex 39, Pad A, at 7:51 a.m. EST on December 21 on a Saturn V booster. The S-IC first stage’s engines underperformed by 0.75%, causing the engines to burn for 2.45 seconds longer than planned. Towards the end of the second stage burn, the rocket underwent pogo oscillations that Frank Borman estimated were of the order of 12 Hz. The S-IVB stage was inserted into an earth-parking orbit of 190.6 by 183.2 kilometers above the earth.

Bill Anders later recalled:[4]

“Then the giant first stage ran out of fuel, as it was supposed to. The engines cut off. Small retro rockets fired on that stage just prior to the separation of the stage from the first stage from the second stage. So we went from plus six to minus a tenth G, suddenly, which had the feeling, because of the fluids sloshing in your ears, of being catapulted by — like an old Roman catapult, being catapulted through the instrument panel.

“So, instinctively, I threw my hand up in front of my face, with just a third level brain reaction. Well, about the time I got my hand up here, the second stage cut in at about, you know, a couple of Gs and snapped my hand back into my helmet. And the wrist string around my glove made a gash across the helmet faceplate. And then on we went. Well, I looked at that gash and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to get kidded for being the rookie on the flight,’ because you know, I threw my hand up. Then I forgot about it.

“Well, after we were in orbit and the rest of the crew took their space suits off and cleaned their helmets, and I had gotten out of my seat and was stowing them, I noticed that both Jim and Frank had a gash across the front of their helmet. So, we were all rookies on that one.”

After post-insertion checkout of spacecraft systems, the S-IVB stage was reignited and burned 5 minutes 9 seconds to place the spacecraft and stage in a trajectory toward the moon – and the Apollo 8 crew became the first men to leave the earth’s gravitational field. [5]

The spacecraft separated from the S-IVB 3 hours 20 minutes after launch and made two separation maneuvers using the SM’s reaction control system. Eleven hours after liftoff, the first midcourse correction increased velocity by 26.4 kilometers per hour. The coast phase was devoted to navigation sightings, two television transmissions, and system checks. The second midcourse correction, about 61 hours into the flight, changed velocity by 1.5 kilometers per hour. [5]

Lovell [4] :

Well, my first sensation, of course, was “It’s not too far from the Earth.” Because when we turned around, we could actually see the Earth start to shrink. Now the highest anybody had ever been, I think, had been either—I think it was Apollo or Gemini XI, up about 800 mi. or something like that and back down again. And all of a sudden, you know, we’re just going down. And it was — it reminds me of looking — driving — in a car looking out the back window, going inside a tunnel, and seeing the tunnel entrance shrink as it gets — as you go farther into the tunnel. And it was quite a — quite a sensation to — to think about. You know, and you had to pinch yourself. “Hey, we’re really going to the moon!” I mean, “You know, this is it!” I was the navigator and it turned out that the navigation equipment was perfect. I mean, it was just — you couldn’t ask for a better piece of navigation equipment.”

The 4-minute 15-second lunar-orbit-insertion maneuver was made 69 hours after launch, placing the spacecraft in an initial lunar orbit of 310.6 by 111.2 kilometers from the moon’s surface – later circularized to 112.4 by 110.6 kilometers. During the lunar coast phase the crew made numerous landing-site and landmark sightings, took lunar photos, and prepared for the later maneuver to enter the trajectory back to the earth. [5]

Image: Lunar farside as seen by Apollo 8. Credit: NASA.

Anders [4] :

“…That one view is sunk in my head. Then there’s another one I like maybe [and this is] of the first full Earth picture which made it again look very colorful. … [T]o me the significance of this [is that the moon is] about the size of your fist held at arm’s length … you can imagine … [that at a hundred arms’ lengths the Earth is] down to [the size of] a dust mote. [And, a hundred lunar distances in space are really nothing. You haven’t gone anywhere not even to the next planet. So here was this orb looking like a Christmas tree ornament, very fragile, not [an infinite] expanse [of] granite … [and seemingly of] a physical insignificance and yet it was our home…”

Borman [4]:

“Looking back at the Earth on Christmas Eve had a great effect, I think, on all three of us. I can only speak for myself. But it had for me. Because of the wonderment of it and the fact that the Earth looked so lonely in the universe. It’s the only thing with color. All of our emotions were focused back there with our families as well. So that was the most emotional part of the flight for me.”

Chris Kraft:

Anders: “Earthshine is about as expected, Houston.”

Kraft:” I shook my head and wondered if I’d heard right. Earthshine!” [1]

Christmas at the Moon

On the fourth day, Christmas Eve, communications were interrupted as Apollo 8 passed behind the moon, and the astronauts became the first men to see the moon’s far side. Later that day , during the evening hours in the United States, the crew read the first 10 verses of Genesis on television to earth and wished viewers “goodnight, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good earth.” [5]

On Christmas Day, while the spacecraft was completing its 10th revolution of the moon, the service propulsion system engine was fired for three minutes 24 seconds, increasing the velocity by 3,875 km per hr and propelling Apollo 8 back toward the earth, after 20 hours 11 minutes in lunar orbit. More television was sent to earth on the way back and, on the sixth day, the crew prepared for reentry and the SM separated from the CM on schedule. [5]

The Apollo 8 CM made the first manned ‘hot’ reentry at nearly 40,000 km/hr into a corridor only 42 km wide. Parachute deployment and other reentry events were normal. The Apollo 8 CM splashed down in the Pacific, apex down, at 10:51 a.m. EST, December 27 – 147 hours and 42 seconds after liftoff. As planned, helicopters and aircraft hovered over the spacecraft and para-rescue personnel were not deployed until local sunrise, 50 minutes after splashdown. The crew was picked up and reached the recovery ship U.S.S. Yorktown at 12:20 p.m. EST. All mission objectives and detailed test objectives were achieved. [5]

Borman [4]:

“We hit the water with a real bang! I mean it was a big, big bang! And when we hit, we all got inundated with water. I don’t know whether it came in one of the vents or whether it was just moisture that had collected on the environmental control system. … Here were the three of us, having just come back from the moon, we’re floating upside down in very rough seas — to me, rough seas.”

Borman[4]:

“Of course, in consternation to Bill and Jim, I got good and seasick and threw up all over everything at that point.”

Anders [4] :

“Jim and I didn’t give him an inch, you know, we [Naval Academy graduates] pointed out to him and the world, that he was from West Point, what did you expect? But nonetheless, he did his job admirably. But by now the spacecraft was a real mess you know, not just from him but from all of us. You can’t imagine living in something that close; it’s like being in an outhouse and after a while you just don’t care, you know, and without getting into detail… messy. But we didn’t smell anything…”

Christopher Kraft recalled in the Apollo oral history:[4]

“The firsts involved in Apollo 8 almost were unlimited, if you stop to think about it, from an educational point of view, from a theological point of view, from an aesthetic point of view, from an art point of view, from culture, I don’t know, you name it, that event was a milestone in history, which in my mind unless we land someplace else where there are human beings, I don’t think you can match it, from its effect on philosophy if you will, the philosophical aspects of that.”

Addendum: Where will the S-IV go?

The Saturn V puts Apollo modules and SIVB in an Earth parking orbit. Then Trans Lunar Injection is performed, the Command Module is on a free return trajectory, meaning that if the Service Module engine fails, at any time, a safe return to the earth is possible (if the Service Module power system does not fail as happened with Apollo 13!)

A free-return trajectory is a path that uses the earth’s and the moon’s gravitational forces to shape an orbit around the moon and back to earth again. It’s called a “free-return” because it is, in essence, automatic. With some minor course corrections, a spacecraft will automatically be whipped around the moon, and will be on a trajectory that causes it to intercept the Earth’s. There is enough redundancy to do the final orbit shaping for correct reentry.

Marty Jeness of MPAD told me this story. He was at NASA headquarters in a meeting about free-return. He asked “Where does the S-IVB go?” After all, it also comes back to the Earth! No one had thought about this, but the possibility of a danger from impact on the earth is small It would most likely go into an ocean. To obviate any risk, the S-IVBs for Apollo 8, 10, and 11 made a tweak maneuver that placed them on a slingshot trajectory into solar orbit. (After Apollo 11, the S-IVB impacted the moon for seismic measurements, except that on Apollo 12 the burn misfired and that SIVB went into a solar orbit).

Footnotes

{1} Mission Planning and Analysis Division during Apollo was the first group to tackle the mission plan problems. An unusual group of men and women, they had to solve difficult astrodynamics problems that no one had ever seen before.

{2} Dieter Grau, Chief of Marshall’s Quality and Reliability Operations played a crucial role. It was thought that troubles with the Saturn V that had been uncovered in January of 1968 had been solved. The contractors had ok’d Apollo 8/AS-503. Von Braun sensed Grau’s unease and gave him permission to inspect the Saturn V centimeter by centimeter! After extra weeks of checking and rechecking, Grau and his people in the Quality and Reliability Laboratory finally gave the green light for the launch of Apollo 8.

{3} For the premier launch of a manned Saturn V, NASA prepared a special VIP list. The fortunate individuals on the list received an invitation in attractively engraved and ornate script: “You are cordially invited to attend the departure of the United States Spaceship Apollo VIII on its voyage around the moon departing from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, with the launch window commencing at 7 A.M. on December 21, 1968.” The formal card was signed “The Apollo VIII Crew” and included the notation, “RSVP.”

{4} Before Apollo missions had numbers they had letters. Owen Maynard, one of the engineers who had been designing manned spacecraft for NASA from the beginning, reduced the task of reaching the moon to a series of missions that, one by one, would push Apollo’s capability all the way to the lunar surface. These missions were assigned letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D “… We kept the flight plans for these in a safe near my office. Since I had a clearance I used to look through these. Apollo 8 was really a ‘D’ mission, which was supposed to be a high Earth orbit mission. One subset was a circumlunar mission. I really did not expect that mission to take place. When Apollo 8 was announced we were surprised to find it had changed into a lunar orbiter mission.

{5} In late September 1968, we knew Apollo 8 was going to happen, but not when. I was surprised watching Walter Cronkite, I think in early October 1968, hearing that 8 was going in December!

References

(1) Kraft, Chris. Flight: My Life in Mission Control. Dutton, 2001

(2) Gene Kranz, Failure Is Not an Option, Simon and Schuster, 2001

(3) Hamish Lindsay, Tracking Apollo to the Moon, Springer, 2001

(4) Oral History Project, Johnson Space Center, 1997 – 2008 (Ongoing)

(5) Apollo 8 Mission Report, MSC-PA-R_69-1, February, 1969.

(6) Robert Zimmerman, Genesis: The Story Of Apollo 8, Basic Books, 1998.

(7) Apollo Lunar Landing Mission Symposium, June 25-27, 1966 Manned Spacecraft Center Houston, Texas

(8) Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon, Henry Holt and Co., 2017

An earlier version of this article appeared in the newsletter of the Houston Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics , AIAA Houston Horizons Winter 2008.

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{ 46 comments… add one }
  • Thomas W. Hair December 21, 2018, 12:10

    Beautiful article Al, thank you.

  • ljk December 21, 2018, 12:20

    Wonderful article, Al! I learned a lot about Apollo 8. You did an especially nice job succinctly pointing out all the major issues that needed to be overcome in just a few months to make the mission happen.

    I find myself asking why our current space agency with no serious pressure to get humans anywhere past LEO cannot seem to get it together like they did in the Apollo days when we had a lot less experience with such things and certainly less advanced technology? Or was the world/society just that much different then?

    The new NASA Administrator finally set an actual date (year) for the first manned Mars mission – 2033. I know it could change at any moment, but that fact that they were at last not vaguely pointing at some ambiguous decade when it might happen is a big step up. Now we will see if they can stick to that goal.

    Back to Apollo 8, here is the official NASA documentary film on the mission:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83cGclY9OZk

    This is the section of the Apollo 8 mission where they read Genesis from the Bible while in lunar orbit:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aIf0G2PtHo

    The fiftieth anniversary celebration of the mission:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAM0iJxyCf4

    The launch of the book Rocket Men with the three main guys involved in that mission:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0ypNo1_S2Y

    When they were in lunar orbit, Lovell considered telling NASA that they saw a large black Monolith in space with them. They then decided better against it, seeing as on one Gemini mission they joked about reporting a UFO being pulled by eight tiny reindeer and it was actually taken seriously for a bit!

  • James Stilwell December 21, 2018, 14:06

    A wonderful post
    Maybe it took someone like von Braun to get the politicians to pay attention and sign the checks. We were in a space race with the Russians. My 11th grade teacher said she didn’t believe Sputnik was a fact…She was serious…My brother was shocked to hear that we went to the moon not once but SIX times…I ask him where he was all this time…He said he was raising kids…Go figure…Not everybody has the pioneering spirit.

    • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:42

      I bet your brother could tell you who won the World Series and Superbowls during those years, however. :^)

  • Gary Wilson December 21, 2018, 15:53

    A great review of a very exciting time. Now we need to get manned exploration moving again. I agree with the emphasis on robotic probes in the outer Solar System but Mars is just waiting to be explored by humans. I’m not too excited by the NASA plan of a space station orbiting the moon. It’s taking far too long. I’m a Musk supporter all the way. Get it done Elon!

    • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:50

      Once the current regime, I mean administration, is gone, you can pretty much bet the farm that lunar orbiting space station/gateway will disappear along with it. I have seen this happen too many times before. While it may not be a technological key component for NASA putting humans on Mars by 2033 as they just declared, you can also be assured that those plans will evaporate as well in the fallout.

      Remember that during the 2012 US Presidential campaign, when Newt Gingrich brought up the idea of a manned lunar base at the southern pole by 2020, his idea was roundly mocked by both Democrats and Republicans, along with the general public. Candidate Mitt Romney went so far as to say he would fire anyone on his staff who would dare to bring up such an idea to him.

      The two things we do have going for us now that we did not have then are Musk and Besos. So let us hope.

      If all of the above does not come through, there are others who are more than willing to fill that literal vacuum. Especially a certain nation that is about to conduct the first soft landing on the lunar farside with a mission that includes both a rover and an enclosed ecosystem.

  • Alex Tolley December 21, 2018, 18:42

    Very good review. Remarkable the risks these astronauts were prepared to take back then.

    As an ex-Brit, I always found the reciting of religious texts by the Apollo 8 astronauts rather peculiar. If Britain had got to the Moon first, the astronauts would have had something much more secular to message the world about their experience and mission.

    • Ashley Baldwin December 22, 2018, 14:25

      Ex-Brit as opposed to a Brexit. Got to be a metaphor or two in that .

      Even with the funds we would have been too cautious by the sixties to risk a shot at the moon. The decision for Apollo 8 threw caution to the wind to try and facilitate Kennedy’s vision of a lunar landing before the end of the decade . First manned excursion beyond Earth’s major gravitational influence made with the first manned Saturn V mission ( which still “pogoed” dangerously ) . Without the Lunar Excursion Module “lifeboat” that was to prove so pivotal in rescuing Jim Lovell ( along with Kevin Bacon & Bill Paxton) the next time he went that way. Now I’m mixing metaphors !

    • Hamilton1 December 23, 2018, 7:38

      If the Brits had got to the moon first, it would have been in a ‘Royal’ spaceship. They can be quite strange at times!

      • Alex Tolley December 23, 2018, 13:51

        Like “Her Majesty’s Space Ship”? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think they might have been named more like the ships in Stephen Baxter’s alternative histories, or perhaps like the Space Fleet ships in the Dan Dare comic strips. And they certainly wouldn’t sing “God Save the Queen” when they planted the Union Jack flag. ;) OTOH, if the UK had reached the Moon in Victoria’s reign, then I could see the crew claiming the Moon as part of the British Empire.

        • ljk January 2, 2019, 10:21

          Now there is a question: Why did Great Britain, which was once the great explorer of the planet Earth, not extend these feats into space? Why did this drive end up in the hands of two other nations which had only a few generations earlier been far behind GB in multiple areas? Was World War 2 that devastating, or did it start earlier?

          Please note I ask these questions to gain a better understanding of history, not as a put down of Great Britain.

    • Alex Tolley December 28, 2018, 13:30

      Just watched NOVA’s “Apollo’s Daring Mission” about the Apollo 8 mission (S45E17). It had a segment on how the Biblical communication to Earth was decided and the various commentators reactions to it. What surprised me was the Borman, Lovell and Anders were failing to come up with a secular idea, and a Washington insider suggested the use of Genesis. In 1968, The US was not a global hegemon, and the transmission was to be heard not just by Americans, but to the globe by everyone who was interested in this magnificent achievement and was able to do so. All the Nasa interviewees thought this was a very appropriate thing to say, even though it was really only relevant to those that celebrated Christmas as a Christian holiday. To me, that was a rather parochial viewpoint even then, and still more, by those commenting today. One might even make a case [ not seriously ]that this violated the separation of church and state. I suspect this reflects the unusual religiosity of the US when compared to other nations when viewed against the axis of GBP/capita.

      • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:23

        I never had a real issue with the Apollo 8 astronauts reading from Genesis while circling the Moon on Christmas Eve of 1968. Plus what good would it have done if I did anyway?

        Besides the fact that all three men were Christians, they were also all by themselves circling a very dead world a quarter of a million miles from Earth in a cramped spaceship where near-instant death awaited them with only a few inches of steel and plastic separating the two. They had no hope of rescue from home and they could not even soft land on the Moon, not that it would do much more than delay the inevitable even if they could land there safely. With all that, who can blame them or anyone wanting a little comfort from their preferred deity?

        What did bother men was listening to some of Frank Borman’s comments in that PBS Nova special on Apollo 8. First it was how they weren’t so PC and “candy ass” back in the day and then his comment that he did not become an astronaut to explore space. Maybe it is just the idealizing kid in me or my certainly different mindset from people like Borman, but a person who is selected to go into space should have at least some interest in space exploration and scientific knowledge gathering.

  • Andrew Palfreyman December 21, 2018, 20:04

    I was 19 when I watched Apollo 11 live. By now NASA should have done extensive manned biological research on Mars – at least. NASA disappoints.

    • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:35

      Not that I disagree with you, but please keep in mind that NASA has always been at the whims of the US Government when it comes to funding. They have always been given peanuts in terms of funding compared to other federal agencies, even during the height of the Apollo era. As just one example, a certain wall along a certain southern border would cost more than NASA’s annual budget.

      I have said this example before here, but I will bring it up again. NASA is like IBM: It was once the undisputed giant in its industry. Then technologies changed, allowing others to play the game and offer both better and cheaper services. IBM was smart and resourceful enough to adapt with the new climate (it was also a private industry, important to note). Can NASA do the same? Having to rely on the whims of a bunch of politicians is no small concern.

  • Gary Wilson December 22, 2018, 15:15

    Well said Andrew. It has been a terrible lack of any real effort by NASA as far as manned exploration for over 40 years now! Two generations of people have watched as we do nothing but dither. I will be shocked if NASA manages to send people to Mars by 2033. I hate to say it but the organization is moribund. It has been left behind technically by SpaceX in only a few years.

    • Harold Daughety December 23, 2018, 19:52

      I think a private versus government mission has a much better chance of happening. One reason is that private civilian astronauts will be much more willing to risk their lives that the government bureaucrats are willing to risk their careers. People have died in these endeavors and that is regrettable, but if they could make an ex post facto decision, I think they would want known hazards minimized and then they would have continued regardless of the remaining risks.

      • Gary Wilson December 24, 2018, 15:21

        I think you’re correct Harold, but that is only a small fraction of the whole story. Institutions can grow old and lose capacity. This seems to have happened very quickly at NASA once Apollo was over. There was no overarching goal. Developing a “space truck” to maintain a presence in low earth orbit was never going to be an overarching goal. Many others have commented on this. As Elon Musk has said NASA is actually moving backwards. From manned exploration of the nearby solar system in the 1960’s and 1970’s to maintenance of low earth orbit capability until 2011 and now no manned presence at all.

        • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:10

          NASA had goals back in the day (the early 1960s). This included manned missions to Mars in the 1980s and manned missions to Jupiter in the 2001 timeframe, which is why the USS Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey was not so far-fetched as it seems in hindsight. Kubrick had done his homework; it was not his fault that the real space agency was unable to keep up with his vision, which he ironically got from them.

          That all fell apart for a variety of reasons, including the Vietnam War, presidential administrations with no real interest in furthering space exploration and colonization, and a major cultural shift in society.

          Here were the plans from NASA’s Space Task Group released in September of 1969. You can thank VP Spiro Agnew and others for keeping the USA in LEO:

          https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/taskgrp.html

          • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:14

            My apologies. It was not Agnew who killed our chances to send humans on to Mars and elsewhere. In fact he was the lead on the Space Task Force plans of 1969. It was his boss, Richard Nixon, who derailed NASA, along with NASA Administrator James Fletcher. They only approved of the Space Shuttle, which I have always had mixed feelings about, including its inability to inspire people about space.

  • Charlie December 23, 2018, 17:06

    Several immediate comments come to my reading this article; first comment is why hasn’t Albert Jackson written a book concerning his life’s accomplishments. I imagine that quite a few people would be interested in your relatively intimate association with the early space program.
    The second has to do with the relatively startling list of preparations that had to be made before this flight could take place , for example, you mean to tell me that the following was necessary at this late date?
    “MIT had to prepare for the first manned mission using a computer to perform guidance, navigation and control from the Earth to another celestial body.”
    Since the landing was supposed to take place the next year; how in the world was the computer so far behind in being prepared up for lunar missions?

    “MSC and Apollo contractors had to plan for the first ever hyperbolic re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere of a manned spacecraft.” Same question here – this seems to becoming rather late in the game as to a must-have for this mission to be successful.
    In fact I can probably say that same thing virtually about ALL the list of things to be finished up in the short time remaining.
    So my question to the author is-how in the world did they manage to run in the first place so close to the finish line and scramble to accomplish what needed to be done at the last moment. It kind of seems like a lot of these items would have been worked out a few years before, so that you could be ready for the big final. Any explanation?

  • Al Jackson December 24, 2018, 4:22

    “Since the landing was supposed to take place the next year; how in the world was the computer so far behind in being prepared up for lunar missions?”
    I should have written “to orbit another celestial body.”
    One notes there were 3 GN&C computers in Apollo a Primary Guidance and Control Computer (the PNGCS , tho Pete Conrad , when in a simulator never called it that) one for the CSM and one for the LM. The LM also had a back computer called the Abort Guidance System (if the primary failed the AGS could do ascent aborts and rendezvous).
    The primary astrodynamics had been done by 1968 but the actual hardware software implementation was ongoing. This was tough stuff , doing it in ground simulation was one , in flight another all together. (The key astrodynamics guy at MIT was Richard Battin an import but not well known figure of Apollo.) The engineering physics was indeed worked out but actual flight software is a bear and those guys worked round the clock to try to get it right.
    Landing on the Moon was a different kettle of fish. All the algorithms were in place but having it play together with descent engine , RCS and landing radar (plus other stuff) in the real on board computers went on all the time right up to the launch of Apollo 8 and 11 (and beyond). Even then things can go haywire , remember the 1201 Master Alarm during Apollo 11 descent? Nothing was ever set in concrete.
    Even tho people had indeed been working for years (well a few years) Even then , Apollo 8 , going to the Moon, as an operational problem had to be squeezed into the August to December time period the labors of Hercules performed. Especially with the ground software , a much bigger suite of software and computers , the hardware for the tracking network , just like any huge technological project there is a horizon of predictability , so the whole process is as edgy as a room full of cats in an electrical storm!
    How did they do it? Some luck and a lot of seat of the pants to the back of the chair , it was not easy.

    • Al Jackson December 24, 2018, 12:00

      As to why I have never written more about my days in Apollo-from-below… I wish I had been a diary keeper … but I am not …. tell ya I was working 24 7 365 in those days … we were soaked in training every day from 8am to 5pm but then at night the instructors had to cover the validation of the simulator software and hardware , I remember it being intense but I was in my late 20’s so it was also fun.
      There is an old joke about the guy who wrote sex manuals all day long , when he came home to wife in the evening all he wanted to do was shake hands.

      • Charlie December 26, 2018, 16:08

        “One notes there were 3 GN&C computers in Apollo a Primary Guidance and Control Computer (the PNGCS , tho Pete Conrad , when in a simulator never called it that) one for the CSM and one for the LM. The LM also had a back computer called the Abort Guidance System (if the primary failed the AGS could do ascent aborts and rendezvous).
        The primary astrodynamics had been done by 1968 but the actual hardware software implementation was ongoing. This was tough stuff , doing it in ground simulation was one , in flight another all together. (The key astrodynamics guy at MIT was Richard Battin an import but not well known figure of Apollo.) The engineering physics was indeed worked out but actual flight software is a bear and those guys worked round the clock to try to get it right.
        Landing on the Moon was a different kettle of fish. All the algorithms were in place but having it play together with descent engine , RCS and landing radar (plus other stuff) in the real on board computers went on all the time right up to the launch of Apollo 8 and 11 (and beyond). Even then things can go haywire , remember the 1201 Master Alarm during Apollo 11 descent? Nothing was ever set in concrete.
        Even tho people had indeed been working for years (well a few years) Even then , Apollo 8 , going to the Moon, as an operational problem had to be squeezed into the August to December time period the labors of Hercules performed. Especially with the ground software , a much bigger suite of software and computers , the hardware for the tracking network , just like any huge technological project there is a horizon of predictability , so the whole process is as edgy as a room full of cats in an electrical storm!”

        There! That’s PRECISELY the reason why you should be writing a book concerning your experiences! Notice that you provided a tremendous amount of detail that would have other wise have been lost to the grave! It’s just not yourself, but so many others who took part in this great adventure that, who stories will be forever lost unless they commit their experiences to paper. I clearly understand that while you were in the heat of the job, you couldn’t exactly break away to commit your thoughts to a diary-but, if you don’t do so, who will? And I’m such a stickler for technical stories about some of the greatest endeavors that people have ever undertaken that I believe that not just yourself, but so many other participants who were in this, should be writing their life stories before they are lost. And I bet you that if one was to take a survey you might find a great deal more interest than you might imagine!

  • Another David December 24, 2018, 8:42

    N.P. Kaminin head of the Soviet Cosmonaut Corp from 1960-71
    wrote in his diary that he thought the Apollo 8 mission had only a 25 percent chance for success. He thought that it was reckless and flown only to give a final triumph to President Johnson before he left office.

    The Kamanin diaries have not been translated into English, but the English summaries of each diary entry can be found at:
    http://www.astronautix.com/k/kamanindiaries.html They make fascinating reading and Kaminin puts the blame for the USSR not reaching the moon because of the engineers insistence of not allowing cosmonauts to be able to actively control their space craft as was the US practice with Gemini and Apollo.

    • ljk January 2, 2019, 10:40

      I am also certain that their monster of a rocket, the N-1, had something to do with their manned lunar mission issues as well:

      http://www.russianspaceweb.com/n1.html

      I was also surprised at the complexity of their overall mission plans, which included EVAs to transfer between vehicles and how only one cosmonaut would make the actual landing on the lunar surface.

      Now the Soviet landing plans I would give only a 25% chance of success; however, I do think they could have beat Apollo in terms of at least a manned circumlunar flight.

      If you want to get technical, the Soviets did beat USA to the Moon in terms of sending multicellular living creatures there and returning them safely to Earth with Zond 5:

      http://russianspaceweb.com/zond5.html

      And hey, today is the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Luna 1, which the Soviets intended to make the first impact on the Moon but instead became the first human vessel to go into solar orbit:

      http://russianspaceweb.com/luna1.html

  • Bruce D. Mayfield December 24, 2018, 12:50

    Today’s APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) is a colorized remake of Anders’ Apollo 8 historic black and white earthrise photo. http://asterisk.apod.com/viewtopic.php?t=39009

  • wdk December 24, 2018, 13:31

    Al,
    Thanks here as well! Alerted many correspondents and friends to the two themes: the very personal story of the first flight to the moon and the continued quest to get to another star – and that you have been involved in both.
    Back then with all that happened in 1968, Time’s Man ( then) of the Year cover feature was the three Apollo astronauts with their flight viewed as a moral story about the 12 months that had already elapsed.
    And for those who believed in space flight it seemed like a no-brainer.
    So, over the fifty years since then there is the still the underlying story of “What happened?” Historians should remain in business.

    It was not simply 1968’s culmination that made me believe that such science fiction’s flights were possible. Sputnik seemed to document the reality of spaceflight, but when this flight was about to happen, I found myself dreaming about it for weeks, maybe months, as though it already had. Psychologically, it seemed more affecting than the actual landing on the moon. In the midst of all this I was still in service, but it made me determined to take part when I got out. Fortunately, even though Apollo was wrapping up, there was still quite a lot to do, considering the ratio of distances between the Earth and moon vs. another star. Even another planet.

    This 50th anniversary since Apollo 8 and 1968 gives plenty of reason to reflect back. Since it was such a memorable year, it causes me to stop and reflect to relate, and doing so have struggled.

    But amid that contemplation and doubt, I was putting up a 2019 Calendar. It was a collection of images of Italy. On the picture above the month of January I was struck by a brief quote imposed on the image of a backstreet pastry shop .

    “I am part of all I have met.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson.

    The same poet who predicted airships bringing on ” the federation of mankind and the parliament of the world” reflected on exploration
    and its impact in his poem Ulysses.

    To a further degree:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45392/ulysses

    On this anniversary, here’s to hope for gathered momentum.

  • Michael Spencer December 26, 2018, 13:42

    With the indulgence of our host, I have a question that can be surely answered by the denizens hereabout.

    A brief interview with Alan Stern* reminds me of a lingering question. Dr. Stern emphasizes the extreme distances that properly describe our solar system, pointing out that light from the sun decreases with the inverse square of the distance.

    My question is this: how do we make images of objects so poorly illuminated? Illumination at the surface of Pluto, based on my own clumsy calculations, would be around 70 -80 lux; low, but manageable, as we see in the well-illuminated images of Pluto, which orbits around 35 AU. Ultima Thule orbits at 42± – 47± AU. Dr. Stern goes on to point out that the Oort Cloud could have a radius of 1.5 LY!

    He also pointed out that the encounter with Ultima Thule will be brief: the object will be a mere point of light for the entire encounter, excepting about 3 days centered on closest approach.

    So, imaging is limited by two things of immediate interest: sufficient time on station and weak light.

    Assuming the same, all-too-brief time on station, can anyone talk a little about what sort of imaging is possible, given the devices mounted New Horizons? Can images be produced at 45 AU? What about 75 AU? or 100 LY? Would better camera gear have been useful? Is such an instrument available?

    The primary instrument, named Ralph ** and built by SWRI, is no ordinary critter, of course.

    Thanks,

    Michael Spencer

    *https://www.space.com/42843-new-horizons-alan-stern-ultima-thule-interview.html
    **http://www.boulder.swri.edu/pkb/ssr/ssr-ralph.pdf

  • Al Jackson December 27, 2018, 8:34

    I should have included the link to the 2008 article.
    It is here:
    http://www.aiaahouston.org/Horizons/december2008.pdf

  • Charlie December 27, 2018, 18:13

    So before I absolutely forget, I have an extremely important questions for you Al Jackson – and that is, you mentioned the concept of “free return” on lunar trajectories, if there should be a malfunction on the ship, necessitating using simply the gravity field to slingshot the ship back home.
    So the important question is: was Apollo 8, wedded to the free return trajectory on its historic mission ? I’d assume it would be given the fact that options would be limited if something would have gone wrong with their main craft. But I don’t know that for a fact; so Al -was it or not?

    • Al Jackson December 28, 2018, 17:04

      Yes Apollo 8, 10 and 11 were on free return.
      Actually Apollo 8 in the initial planning was a free return mission.
      It was Mission Planning and Analysis Division that told Kris Kraft it should be true circum-Lunar orbit. George Low and Headquarters initially rejected it but came around.
      As I mentioned 8,10 and 11 SIVBs were slung into solar orbit. The 12 SIVB was to be a Lunar impactor but had a failed trim burn so it went into Solar orbit. All the rest impacted the Moon.
      Starting with Apollo 12 the trajectories were ‘hybrid’ , just a little off free return because the missions were to reach landing sites that did not fit with a free return. This was a big problem on Apollo 13 since it meant doing a correction at the Moon using the descent engine.

      • Charlie December 29, 2018, 17:45

        There! That’s PRECISELY the reason why you should be writing a book concerning your experiences! Notice that you provided a tremendous amount of detail that would have other wise have been lost to the grave! It’s just not yourself, but so many others who took part in this great adventure that, who stories will be forever lost unless they commit their experiences to paper. I clearly understand that while you were in the heat of the job, you couldn’t exactly break away to commit your thoughts to a diary-but, if you don’t do so, who will? And I’m such a stickler for technical stories about some of the greatest endeavors that people have ever undertaken that I believe that not just yourself, but so many other participants who were in this, should be writing their life stories before they are lost. And I bet you that if one was to take a survey you might find a great deal more interest than you might imagine!

  • ljk January 2, 2019, 11:57

    Let us not forget the manned space mission that not only preceded Apollo 8 but also sent three men in a bullet-shaped spacecraft from Florida around the Moon and splashed down in the Atlantic – and done a century earlier at that:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/83

  • ljk January 3, 2019, 11:18
    • ljk January 3, 2019, 11:35

      Review: Red Moon

      A new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a future where China has a major presence on the Moon. Vidvuds Beldavs reviews the book and examines what Robinson may have overlooked in his vision of the future three decades hence.

      Monday, December 31, 2018

      http://thespacereview.com/article/3627/1

  • ljk January 8, 2019, 14:17

    Half a century later, we are still learning from those lunar surface samples brought back by Apollo:

    https://www.space.com/42920-apollo-moon-rocks-science-still-thriving.html

    Now we need some from the far side and the poles.

  • ljk January 11, 2019, 11:36

    Check out this panorama of the farside lunar surface from Chang’e 4:

    http://spaceref.com/moon/change-4-lunar-panorama-released.html

  • ljk January 11, 2019, 14:49

    Way more images, videos, and details on Chang’e 4 and Yutu 2 here:

    http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/change-4-update.html

  • ljk January 15, 2019, 10:08

    Why the Chang’e-4 Moon landing is unique

    Earlier this month China landed its second spacecraft on the Moon, and became the first country to land on the lunar farside. Namrata Goswami warns that, despite these achievements, the West continues to underestimate China’s space program.

    Monday, January 14, 2019

    http://thespacereview.com/article/3639/1

    To quote:

    In order to analyze whether its long-term goal of establishing human presence on the Moon will be accomplished, Chang’e-4 is carrying a three-kilogram aluminum alloy cylinder that contains seeds of potatoes and Arabidopsis, a plant related to cabbage, as well as eggs of silk worms. The idea is to experiment if potatoes and silk worms can flourish on the Moon in simulated mini-biosphere. This is exciting by itself, as it is the first time that such an experiment is being carried out on the Moon, nearly 400,000 kilometers from Earth, unlike similar experiments carried out on the International Space Station (ISS) and Tiangong 2, in low Earth orbit (LEO), just 400 kilometers above the Earth. What makes this experiment unique is that it is the first step in analyzing whether humans can create suitable conditions on the Moon to survive for the long term and is directly connected to China’s stated ambition of establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon.

    The mini-biosphere experiment on Chang’e-4 is a collaborative effort of 28 Chinese universities led by Chongqing University. Its chief designer, Xie Gengxin, said:

    We have to keep the temperature in the “mini biosphere” within a range from 1 degree to 30 degrees [Celsius], and properly control the humidity and nutrition. We will use a tube to direct the natural light on the surface of Moon into the tin to make the plants grow…We want to study the respiration of the seeds and the photosynthesis on the Moon.

    So why potatoes and Arabidopsis? According to Liu Hanlong, Chief Director of the experiment and Vice President of Chongqing University, “The growth period of arabidopsis is short and convenient to observe. And potatoes could become a major source of food for future space travelers…Our experiment might help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the Moon.”

    China’s long-term goals of space presence, access, and dominance by 2045 is emboldened by the successful landing of Chang’e-4, not an easy feat to carry out on a side that faces away from Earth. The landing site of the spacecraft, Von Kármán crater, is part of the South Pole Aitken Basin, whose expanse may contain volatile and mineral resources essential to human settlements.

  • ljk January 15, 2019, 10:19

    China’s Moon mission sees first seeds sprout

    January 15, 2019

    Seeds taken up to the Moon by China’s Chang’e-4 mission have sprouted, says China National Space Administration.

    It marks the first time any biological matter has grown on the Moon, and is being seen as a significant step towards long-term space exploration.

    The Chang’e 4 is the first mission to land on and explore the Moon’s far side, facing away from Earth.

    It touched down on 3 January, carrying instruments to analyse the region’s geology.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-46873526

    To quote:

    Prof Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer, was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post: “We have given consideration to future survival in space.

    “Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.”

    He said cotton could eventually be used for clothing while the potatoes could be a food source for astronauts and the rapeseed for oil.

    China’s Xinhua news agency said that the seeds were rendered dormant using “biological technology” during the 20-day journey from Earth to the Moon.

    They only began growing once ground control centre sent a command to the probe to water the seeds.

  • ljk January 15, 2019, 13:25

    Review: Safely to Earth

    This year will see many books about the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, focusing primarily on the program itself, the astronauts, and other key figures. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir that shows that books written by others involved in the program at lower levels can also be interesting.

    Monday, January 14, 2019

    http://thespacereview.com/article/3636/1

  • ljk March 5, 2019, 11:56

    Review: Apollo 11

    The Apollo 11 mission has been told and retold countless times in almost every conceivable format. However, Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that offers a fresh look at the mission, thanks in part to footage that hadn’t been seen since it was taken a half-century ago.

    Monday, March 4, 2019

    http://thespacereview.com/article/3667/1

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