In 1968, America was tearing apart. There was racial unrest in the cities; Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated; the Democratic National Convention descended into chaos; and America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was dividing the country. One of the few things that united the nation was the space program. The spectacular success of the Apollo 8 mission, which launched 50 years ago on Dec. 21, would become a harbinger for even greater achievement for NASA.
The crew of Apollo 8 — Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders — earned a place in history as the first people to leave Earth’s orbit, reach the moon, orbit it, and return safely to Earth. The photos they took of the moon, and the data they gathered while in deep space and in lunar orbit, were critical in preparing the United States for the moon landing the following year.
Apollo 8 also made a mark in the cultural firmament. On Christmas Eve, the astronauts read verses from the Bible, prompting legal action from activist atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair that was dismissed by the Supreme Court. A lasting image from the mission was one of the photos the astronauts took came to be known as “Earthrise” and would become one of the most famous photos of all time.
The crew were lionized as Time magazine’s “Men of the Year” in 1968. Such was the goodwill generated from the mission that one grateful person sent Borman a telegram that read: “Thank You Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 achievements, 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of the 20 facts about the mission. We used material from sources such as NASA, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, websites from companies that built the Saturn V rocket, and media sources.