Apollo 8, the second manned mission in the Apollo
space program was launched on December 21, 1968 from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The previous
Mercury and Gemini programs also had manned flights, but these programs were training grounds for the moon landing
Apollo flights. Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the
Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman,
Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first
humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, and then
the first to directly see the far side of the Moon.
Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. During ten lunar orbits
over the course of 20 hours, Crewman Anders took the famous photo below on the fourth orbit.
The crew also made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first 10
verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most
watched TV program ever. Apollo 8's successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 the
following year to fulfill President John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the Moon
before the end of the decade. The Apollo 8 astronauts returned to Earth on
December 27, 1968, when their spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
With America's rapid decline of Christian influence, it is doubtful today if the
Astronauts would have read from the Bible, or even been allowed too. I firmly believe that this act lead to the
successful first landing of Apollo 11 the following July, the safe return of Apollo 13,
and the tremendous success of the entire space program. —Steve Samuelson
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