On this day in 1968, Apollo 8 splashes down in the ocean. The crew had spent Christmas Eve orbiting the moon! The three men famously saw the first “Earthrise” as they came out from behind the lunar surface that day.
What a way to celebrate Christmas?! They snapped the attached photo, forever memorializing their experience.
In the end, the Apollo 8 crew would orbit the moon not just once, but ten times. The scariest part of the trip occurred during the last orbit, as the crew prepared to leave the moon and return to Earth. NASA could not communicate with its men anytime that they were behind the moon. Thus, the crew would need to perform an engine burn, unassisted, enabling the spaceship to leave its lunar orbit and head back to Earth.
Would it work?
Many at NASA spent the early morning hours of Christmas anxiously awaiting the answer to this very question. What a relief when Apollo 8 emerged and the Command Module Pilot made a joking announcement as he looked down on Earth: “Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.” …
Perhaps Lovell had fonder memories of a Christmas Eve transmission that the Apollo 8 crew made to a live audience on Earth?
“We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice,” Commander Frank Borman later described. “And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”
The crew decided that the first ten verses of Genesis fit the bill. As Lovell would say, it “is the foundation of many of the world’s religions, not just the Christian religion.”
After reading the Bible verses, the crew bade farewell with a simple “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”
2 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.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7 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.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.