Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Forty Years Ago

On December 21, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 lifted off from Cape Canaveral on an awe-inspiring trip around the Moon. It was a trip borne out of necessity; NASA could not afford to fall farther behind the Russians in the Space Race.

NASA was stymied by the lunar module (LEM), the craft that would transport the two moon explorers from the command module to the lunar surface. The LEM that arrived from Grumman was not flight-ready, full of defects that had to be corrected before the Apollo program could continue. All future Apollo flights depended on the LEM and it wouldn't be ready until the next launch window had already come and gone. NASA had to test the LEM in low Earth orbit and work out all the docking procedures before they could even consider testing it in lunar orbit and attempting a lunar landing. Meanwhile the clock was ticking. The Russians had a launch window coming up and were thought to be planning something big. In August, NASA decided to go for broke -- a mission that would bypass the Earth orbit missions and go all the way to the Moon and back.

The crew of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders became the first men to get a close-up view of the Moon, and the first to ever set eyes on the far side. They discovered a cold, desolate wasteland, but the most amazing sight came when they emerged from the dark side, "a grand oasis in the vast loneliness of space."

The Earthrise photo was one of the most iconic photographs of the 1960s...

Posted by Picasa

On December 24, the crew made a live television broadcast from lunar orbit. At the time, it was the largest television audience ever...

The Russian launch window came to nothing; it came and went with the spacecraft still sitting on the pad. In February 1969, the LEM was finally ready for the Earth orbit missions. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the Moon. Time Magazine named the crew of Apollo 8 their "Men of the Year" for 1968.

No comments: