Apollo 8: a moment in space-time
Forty years ago tonight, three NASA astronauts held the world transfixed as they transmitted a Christmas Eve message from the moon.
It was the Apollo 8 mission - the first manned spacecraft to cross the 240,000-mile gulf from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit. On board were Commander Frank Borman, Command module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders.
Their goal was not to land on the lunar surface; that would come seven months later with Apollo 11. Instead, they were to make the first crossing to the moon, enter lunar orbit and spin around the moon 10 times before heading home again.
On the evening of Dec. 24, at lunar sunrise, the crew went on live TV and sent back eerie images of the gray, forbidding lunar surface, with the blue-and-white globe of the sunlit Earth hanging over the horizon.
Lovell observed: "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." The image, and that sentiment, helped to inspire a generation of people to a new kind of thinking about the planet - not as a resource to be exploited, but as a spacecraft on which all of us are passengers, sharing limited food, air and water. Break this, spoil these life-support systems, and we will have no place else to go.
Then Anders said, "For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you."
He and his mates then took turns reading from the story of the Creation, from Genesis. "In the beginning. God created the heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep..."
For those of us who listened that night, the effect was electric. Voices, crimped and distorted by tiny microphones and the vast distance, spoke to us from THE MOON! And they spoke of our home planet, and of beginnings, and possibilities for a great human adventure. All this on a night that, for many of us, symbolized hope and our shared humanity. Who could sleep?!
It was Borman, the commander, who signed off that night: "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."
To watch, and listen to the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast, click here.
WeatherBlog readers: I will be away from the Weather Control Center for a few days to pray for snow and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. The weather buttons and levers will be unmanned until Jan. 5, although I may look in from time to time to post any comments you may offer. Likewise, my mug will be absent from the print Weather Page on Jan. 1-4. My gift to you.