'All Of You On The Good Earth' — The Timeless Message Of Apollo 8
Miracles: When it comes to Christmas miracles, few can match Apollo 8, which was in orbit around the moon 50 years ago today. It still ranks as the most impossibly ambitious and borderline reckless space voyage ever attempted — even counting Apollo 11. And for a moment, it brought humanity together in a way that had never happened before or, arguably, since.
The only successful manned mission had been Alan Shepard's 15-minute suborbital flight on a Mercury Redstone rocket that was one-fifth as tall as the Saturn V rocket used to get to the moon.
When Kennedy made that speech, NASA had no idea how it would even get men to the moon, and no rocket that could do the job. NASA didn't settle on the idea of using the iconic spindly lunar lander until more than a year later.
NASA itself barely existed in May 1961. And computers were primitive even by the standards of 30 years ago. Less than two years before, three astronauts died in a cabin fire during a ground test.
Even more incredible is the fact that Apollo 8 wasn't supposed to happen at all, at least not then. NASA originally planned it for the next year, and even then it wasn't supposed to go all the way to the moon. Less than four months out, they took the highly unusual risk of jumping the gun.
Apollo 8 achieved a huge number of significant firsts. It was the first manned flight on the massive Saturn V rocket. Three hours after takeoff, and for the first time in human history, mankind left Earth's orbit for the first time ever and Apollo 8 became the first manned craft to orbit another celestial body. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the first humans ever to see the entire Earth and the first to see our planet rise over the moon's surface.
When they returned, Time magazine named them "Men of the Year" for 1968.
Remember, too, that Apollo 8 capped an especially turbulent and violent year, one that makes today's political drama seem modest by comparison.
So, when the astronauts delivered their Christmas Eve message — a message of unity and hope to the people back on earth — it was especially poignant.
Anders started by saying: "For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you."
Then, from the cramped command module 240,000 miles away, the three each read passages from the opening verses of Genesis telling the story of God's creation of earth.
Robert Zimmerman, who wrote a book about the mission, says the astronauts deliberated at length about what to say, and felt the words from Genesis would "include the feelings and beliefs of as many people as possible."
Borman then closed by saying:
"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."