(From "Apollo 8 Man Around the Moon," NASA EP-66, Office of Public Affairs, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. 20546.)
Apollo 8 Man Around the Moon
It was Christmas time, 1968, when man broke his bonds to Earth. Three Americans, Frank Borman, James A. Lovell Jr., and William A. Anders, guided their Apollo 8 spacecraft across nearly a quarter-million miles of black void, out of the grasp of Earth, into orbit around the Moon, and back once more to a chosen pinpoint on their home planet.
Never before had man traveled so far, so fast or looked so closely upon another celestial body. Never before had so many millions listened and watched, their imaginations stretched, as the explorers spoke across the emptiness. Never, indeed, had adventure ever borne all mankind so daringly near the boundaries of its aspirations.
What the astronauts saw of the Moon, from 70 miles above that foreboding surface, can now be seen by all and studied by scientists in the array of still and motion pictures, many of them in color, taken from Apollo 8. What the astronauts succeeded in proving about the reliability of the spacecraft and its rocket vehicle confirmed that some day soon men will actually set foot upon the Moon.
It was the first time that men had been launched into space by the Saturn V, America's most powerful machine. It was the first time, too, that men had sped at nearly 25,000 miles an hour, as Apollo 8 hurled itself from orbit of the Earth and into flight toward the Moon.
Each time Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders vanished behind the far side of the Moon they lost all contact with the Earth for 45 minutes on each of the 10 orbits. During the first long silence the black void crackled with tension until Mission Control in Houston reported, "We've got it! Apollo 8 is in lunar orbit."
"Good to hear your voice," said Astronaut Lovell.
On the Eve of Christmas, as the eyes of the world followed Apollo 8 across the moonscape, the astronauts invoked another, older voice, reading in turn the first ten verses of Genesis, the Story of Creation. Its conclusionč"...and God saw that it was good"č echoed in Astronaut Borman's words as again Apollo 8 headed into the silent, tantalizing absence of earthly communications:
"God bless all of youčall of you on the good Earth."
The Making of an Astronaut
To be ready for six weightless days of voyaging to the Moon and back to Earth Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders had invested thousands of hours in preparation. Their training was exacting both physically and mentally.
That they had done their homework well, in classroom and laboratory, could not be doubted by any who heard their reports to Earth. The astronauts knew their selenography (lunar topography) as well as they knew the landmarks around Houston. That they were physically fit was clear from the rapidity with which they threw off the effects of a virus on their voyage outward.
Nor had the spacecraft or the mission any surprises for them. In effect, they had been to the Moon many times, their trips simulated in an Earthbound Apollo which duplicated the features of the mission down to the thump of Apollo 8's jet thrusters and the visible waxing of the Moon as the spacecraft drew ever nearer.
They brought to the flight experience in high performance aircraft and in space itself. Anders is a nuclear engineer. Lovell holds a degree in Science. Borman is an aeronautical engineer. Both Borman and Lovell have orbited the Earth in the Gemini program. Lovell holds the record. He has been in space longer than any other man. It is this extensive training, education and experience that goes into the making of an astronaut.
The Making of Apollo 8
Apollo 8 was eight years in the making.
The space vehicle (which includes both Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V rocket vehicle) stood 363 feet tall and incorporated well over 3 million working parts. It was put together inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, a structure so vast (716 feet long, 518 feet wide, 525 feet tall) as almost to afford a climate of its own. If fans did not circulate the air inside clouds would form and rain would fall.
Like man himself, Apollo 8 had to crawl before it could fly. It crept three and a third miles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad aboard a crawler-transporter big enough (115 by 130 feet) to accommodate a baseball diamond. The octagonal launch pad, one of two set about 8,700 feet apart, measures 3,000 feet across.
The Apollo 8 space vehicle's first stage came from Louisiana; the second and third stages from California. They were tested and made ready in Alabama. Guidance and navigation equipment came from Wisconsin, and was checked in Massachusetts. Systems in the spacecraft came from Florida and New Hampshire.
Astronaut Borman, after returning from the Moon, recognized a truth when he said, "Thousands of people made this possible."
Electric power flowed into Apollo 8 at 7 p.m. (EST) Sunday, Dec. 15, 1968, and the countdown started. In one sense, it began a little more than a decade ago when man first learned to put relatively small objects into orbit around the Earth; in another, broader sense, perhaps, it began before the dawn of history when a nameless pioneer lifted calloused knuckles from the Earth and gazed on the heavens.
Computers raced electronically through the hundreds of systems of the great vehicle, checking the condition of their millions of parts, systematically verifying the fitness of supporting facilities on the ground. Workers swarmed over the pad and launch tower, filling fuel tanks, installing explosives to separate the stages during the flight, checking electrical connections.
The astronauts, spelled often by their backup crew, took their stations in the spacecraft to join the countdown. They had physical examinations and finally suited up.
Men and machine were ready for the great adventure.
The Voyage Out
At 7:51 a.m. (EST) Saturday, Dec. 21, 1968, Saturn V thundered and thrust against the Earth with all its 7.5 million pounds of power, lifting itself and Apollo from Cape Kennedy. Eleven minutes later Apollo 8 was in Earth orbit. In the second orbit, Saturn V's third stage fired Apollo 8 onto course for the Moon at nearly 25,000 mph.
The voyage out took two days. On each day at about 3 p.m. the astronauts appeared live on television screens on Earth. Early on Dec. 24, well within the gravitational field of the Moon, they turned the spacecraft so that its rocket engine, the Service Propulsion System (SPS), faced forward. As Apollo 8 coasted out of sight behind the Moon and out of touch with Earth at 4:59 a.m. (EST), the crew fired the SPS. Not until Apollo 8 emerged from behind the Moon did the world learn that it was in an elliptical orbit ranging between 69 and 195 miles above the Moon. Two orbits later, the astronauts again fired the SPS and achieved a nearly circular orbit about 70 miles above the Moon.
For about 20 hours, a total of ten orbits, Apollo 8 remained locked in the grip of the Moon. At 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 24, the astronauts appeared live on television, sharing with those on Earth their view of the moonscape. For most of the rest of the time, they were busy with their cameras and sextant, photographing and locating features on the Moon, giving special attention to proposed Apollo landing sites.
Early Christmas morning, once more behind the Moon and out of contact with Earth, they positioned the spacecraft to fire the SPS and free Apollo 8 from lunar orbit. Again, until Apollo 8 emerged from behind the Moon, those on Earth did not know that the engine had indeed fired and Apollo 8 was homeward bound.
How Eyes and Ears of World Followed Apollo 8 to Moon
To keep an anxious world in contact with Apollo 8 and Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders, the communications network of the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, combined 14 land stations, four instrumented ships, and eight instrumented aircraft. Circuits of cable, telephone, teletype, and radio relayed messages through terminals both on Earth and on communications satellites orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 22,300 miles.
Not only did the system enable Mission Control in Houston to talk with the astronauts and millions to see them on their television screens, but it also monitored the physical functions of spacecraft, rocket engines, and the men themselves. Only during the times when Apollo 8 swept to the far side of the Moon were the astronauts truly alone.
So long as Apollo 8 remained no farther away than Earth orbit, the smaller of the land stations, with antennas 30 feet in diameter, could stay in touch. For greater distances, 85-foot antennas at Madrid, Spain, and Canberra, Australia, and the 210-foot antenna at Goldstone, California, were so spaced around the Earth that despite its rotation, one of them would always provide the vital communications link to Apollo 8.
Apollo 8 broke out of Moon orbit at about 5,500 mph and under the influence of the Earth's gravity gathered speed with each passing hour as it headed for home. Eventually, upon reaching the atmosphere of the Earth, the speed reached almost 25,000 mph., fast enough, if the angle of flight were too steep, to burn the spacecraft to a cinder or, if the angle too shallow, to bounce it off into space again. To land safely Apollo 8 had to be threaded through what at 80 miles above the Earth amounted to the eye of a needlečan imaginary doorway some 400 miles by 26 miles.
Apollo 8, its service module discarded, hit the eye of the needle blunt end first and began tracing a flaming arc through the atmosphere. Twice the craft was rolled so that the aerodynamic lift designed into it not only slowed descent but actually caused it to climb briefly. The deceleration force on the astronauts rose to six times the ordinary force of the Earth's gravity.
Three drogue parachutes automatically deployed at 24,000 feet when Apollo had slowed to about 300 mph. At 10,000 feet when the spacecraft had slowed to about 140 mph., the 831/2-foot orange and white blossoms of the main 'chutes unfolded and eased Apollo 8 into the Pacific a mere 5,000 yards from the main recovery ship, the carrier Yorktown.
It was 10:51 a.m. (EST) Monday, Dec. 27, but 4:50 a.m. and still dark on the ocean about 1,100 miles southwest of Hawaii. Just after sunrise, an hour and 20 minutes later, Astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders stepped out of the helicopter and onto the red carpet on the deck of the Yorktown.