NASA's Apollo 8 moon mission celebrates 50th anniversary

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NASA marks 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 moon mission
NASA marks 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 moon mission

New Delhi : The day December 19 holds a special significance in the rise of US-based space agency, NASA. Fifty years ago, the three Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon and booked a prestigious space in the 'Book of Genesis'. 

The 1968 mission is perhaps the boldest and most dangerous mission undertaken by NASA. The first flight to moon by human set the stage for Apollo 11 moon landing seven months later. The mission was a great risk because, three men were placed atop a gruesome new rocket for the first time and send them all the way to the moon. The mission was beaten together in just four months in order to reach the moon by year's end, before the Soviet Union.

Lastly, there was the photo named "Earthrise," showing our blue and white ball, humanity's home, rising above the bleak, gray lunar landscape and 240,000 miles (386 million kilometers) in the distance.

Humans had never seen the far side of the moon, surrounded completely by the black void of space. A half-century later, only 24 US astronauts who flew to the moon have witnessed these amazing sights in person.

Luckily the Apollo 8 crew is still among us, Borman and Lovell are 90, Anders is 85.

Lovell explained that they had the thrill and romance of true exploration. The mission's impact was perhaps best summed up in a four-word telegram received by Borman. "Thanks, you saved 1968."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wonders over the brave decision in August that year to launch astronauts to the moon in four months' time. He's pushing for a return to the moon, but with real sustainability this next go-around.

"Even more worrisome than all of this," Bridenstine noted earlier this month, Apollo 8 would be in orbit around the moon on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

"In other words, if there was a failure here, it would wreck Christmas not only for everybody in the United States, but for everybody in the world." 

"My main concern in this whole flight was to get there ahead of the Russians and get home. That was a significant achievement in my eyes," Borman explained at the Chicago launch of the book "Rocket Men" last spring.

"We all tried for quite a while to figure out something, and it all came up trite or foolish," Borman recalled. Finally, the wife of a friend of a friend came up with the idea of Genesis.

"In the beginning," Anders read, "God created the heaven and the Earth ..." Borman ended the broadcast with, "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."

It was on Christmas morning that the spacecraft went around the moon for the final time. The engine firing needed to shoot them back to Earth occurred while the capsule was out of communication with Mission Control in Houston. Lovell broke the nervous silence as the ship reappeared: "Please be informed there is a Santa Claus." Back in Houston, meanwhile, a limousine driver knocked on Marilyn Lovell's door and handed her a gift-wrapped mink stole with a card that read: "To Marilyn, Merry Christmas from the man in the moon." Lovell bought the coat for his wife and arranged its fancy delivery before liftoff.

Time magazine named the three astronauts "Men of the Year."