Apollo 8, Christmas Eve at the Moon

Photo:Theresa Cross

In 1968 on Christmas Eve, one out of every four humans watched, including those behind the Soviet Iron Curtain, as Apollo 8 crew members Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman read from the book of Genesis wishing people on the “good earth” a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in what would turn out to be the best part of a very turbulent year. War, riots and assassinations had defined that year thus far until the very end when humankind found its voice through those very brave men and their message of peace and hope for mankind from space.

Apollo 8 crew members (from left) Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman stand beside the Apollo Mission Simulator at the Kennedy Space Center Credit:NASA

Four days before Christmas that year, a Saturn V rocket, the most powerful machine man had ever built, left earth with those three astronauts on a mission of firsts. They had left to discover the moon but actually ended up discovering that and much more, our earth by a single photo known as “Earthrise”. On Christmas Eve, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first to orbit another world in their command module 240,000 miles from earth and gave us that historical moment and iconic photograph.

Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders’ photograph of the first earthrise witnessed by humans. Credit:NASA

That photo alone, Earthrise, has been credited by many as the catalyst for starting the environmental movement. Earth Day saw its beginnings within the following eighteen months along with the clean air act and the clean water act to name a few. But this photograph, and circling the moon ten times on that Christmas Eve, would not be the only significance of the mission. These three astronauts had been told by NASA six weeks prior to the mission they were going to have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice as they orbited the moon on December 24th, 1968. These are the words they ultimately chose:

William Anders:

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you”.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell:

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Frank Borman:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman then added, “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.”

Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders’ photograph of the first earthrise witnessed by humans. (NASA)

That photo alone, Earthrise, has been credited as the catalyst for starting the environmental movement. Earth Day saw its beginnings within the following eighteen months along with the clean air act and the clean water act to name a few. But this photograph would not be the only significance of the mission. These three astronauts were told by NASA that they were going to have the largest audience while orbiting the moon that had ever listened to a human voice:

William Anders:

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you”.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell:

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Frank Borman:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman then added, “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.”