Apollo 8 Mission Overview
This Apollo 8 view of Earth rising over the limb of the Moon is one of the most iconic photos of the space age.
Apollo 8 was originally intended to be an Earth-orbital test of the Lunar Module. However, completion of the Lunar Module was behind schedule and NASA wanted to maintain its launch schedule with the goal of attempting the first lunar landing in summer 1969. Because of that, and in light of the highly successful Apollo 7 mission, NASA made the audacious decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon, despite that fact that it was only the second Apollo flight with a human crew and the third launch of the Saturn V booster rocket. The crew began training for a possible lunar mission in August 1968, but the final decision to fly to the Moon was not made until November 12, less than six weeks before launch. The goals of the mission included developing operational experience with deep space navigation, communication, and tracking.
Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders launched at 6:51 AM CST, December 21, 1968, from Kennedy Space Center. After a detailed checkout of the spacecraft in Earth orbit, the third stage of the booster was re-ignited, sending the spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. After a flight of slightly under 3 days, the crew entered orbit around the Moon at 4:03 AM on December 24. The choice to spend Christmas Eve in lunar orbit was made because that was the time of optimal lighting conditions for surveying the Apollo Landing Site 1, which was being considered as the prime target for the first lunar landing. In addition to surveying this landing zone, the crew made geologic observations of pre-selected features on both the near side and far side of the Moon, took stereo images of the lunar surface, and assessed the range of lighting conditions that would permit a safe landing in the Lunar Module. Although unplanned, they also took a famous series of photos showing Earth rising above the limb of the Moon.
The crew also made two television broadcasts from lunar orbit. The first was a 12-minute broadcast during their second orbit around the Moon. The second was 26 minutes long, ending at 9 PM CST. In addition to views of the lunar surface, the crew read from the Bible, ending with Borman’s wish “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the Good Earth.” The live television broadcast was seen in 64 countries by approximately one billion people. After 10 orbits and 20 hours around the Moon, the crew left lunar orbit to return to Earth. Shortly after midnight on Christmas Day, Lovell playfully announced the successful performance of this maneuver: “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.” The mission ended with splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 9:51 AM CST on December 27, after a flight of six days and three hours.