It was the night before Christmas in 1968 when the Apollo 8 astronauts beamed back a message for “the good earth” while orbiting the moon.
NASA Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first to orbit the moon on December 24, 1968.
With pressure mounting from President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for a moon landing and the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire, NASA made bold changes to Apollo 8 and pushed ahead with a manned lunar orbit mission.
The decision sent the crew on the Saturn V rocket’s first manned spaceflight without a lunar module and with a single engine on the capsule to get them home.
Launched on December 21, 1968, Borman, Lovell, and Anders entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, circling the lunar surface ten times.
As the crew emerged from the first orbit behind the Moon, the Apollo 8 astronauts shared images of the Moon and Earth, including a view of Earthrise more than 240,000 miles away. The image of the Earth with the moon below became one of the most recognizable images of the Apollo era, according to NASA.
Fast forward more than 50 years to December 2022, and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, designed to carry the closest humans to the moon, also shared a similar view of Earthrise.
NASA executives had told the Apollo 8 astronauts to prepare to share some words with the world that would be broadcast around the globe. The crew were given creative freedom to choose what to say, but were told “to do something appropriate,” Borman said in a 2008 interview.
With this in mind, they decided to read the first 10 verses of Genesis.
Lovell said years later the message was chosen for its universal significance.
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“The first ten verses of Genesis are the foundation of many world religions, not just the Christian religion,” Lovell said in 2008. “There are more people in the world of other religions than of the Christian religion, and so it would be fitting, and that’s how it happened.”
As the Apollo 8 capsule orbited the moon more than 240,000 miles from Earth, each astronaut took turns reading verses.
“From the crew of Apollo 8 we close with a good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless you all, all on good earth.”
The program was seen or heard by 1 in 4 people on earth.
Message from the moon would be the last before the astronauts attempted to return to Earth, and mission control was waiting to know if Apollo 8’s engine ignition was working to de-orbit the moon.
After the successful engine fire, Lovell told Mission Control, “Roger, please be informed that there is a Santa Claus.”
The Apollo 8 capsule splashed into the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968.