Remembering 1968: Apollo 8's Christmas greeting from the moon

Remembering 1968: Apollo 8's Christmas greeting from the moon

The interview comes a few days after the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first manned spaceflight to leave Earth's orbit and fly around the moon.

KELLY: That accident was Apollo 13, two years after Apollo 8, 1970, a near disaster of a mission after an oxygen tank exploded en route to the moon. They had just four months to learn how to fly to the moon. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders were focused on something else: becoming the first humans to reach the moon's orbit and return safely. We are there, looking toward the moon and a camera nearly 240,000 miles away looks back at us - a swirl of blue and white - and in that moment, there is no turmoil, only beauty. One of us had the camera out.

The following day-Christmas Day 1968-the Apollo 8 crew departed lunar orbit and headed back home. America in 1968 had already experienced so much anguish - the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, race riots in U.S. cities, the bloody Tet offensive in Vietnam. 'There's a attractive Moon out there, ' noted the radio message beamed up from NASA HQ in Houston. "We got thousands of telegrams after the flight, but the one that struck me the most said, 'Thank you Apollo 8". And that was despite on its previous test flight, the Saturn V rocket lost parts and engines failed.

The Apollo 8 space vehicle was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on December 21, 1968.

One member of the public famously wrote to NASA to credit the mission with having "saved 1968", a year otherwise plagued by war and protests over Vietnam, civil rights and other issues.

Australia continues to play an important role in space exploration with scientists and technicians still supporting support NASA. His bosses insisted on more.

Everyone eventually agreed: Ten orbits it would be. It was December 24, 1968.

And now it was Christmas Eve.

"We all tried for quite a while to figure out something, and it all came up trite or foolish", Borman recalled, until the wife of a friend suggested they take turns reading verses from the Bible.

As they pointed the camera to the lunar surface and panned to the distant Earth, they read from the Book of Genesis.

Before going to sleep on Christmas Eve in 1968 as the men hurdled through space, they tried to find the most fitting words to deliver on a live broadcast.

On Christmas morning, their spacecraft went around the moon for the final time.

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RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Any trip to space is risky, but a mission to the moon, almost a quarter-million miles from Earth, was something else.

JIM LOVELL: And it was actually his wife. The first Earth Day was marked in the USA just over a year later, in April 1970, while the founding of environmental organisations such as Greenpeace wasn't far behind. This was a profound image, containing all of humanity, bar the three astronauts.

It wasn't until after the astronauts were back that the significance of their Earth pictures sank in.

The mission was also famous for the iconic "Earthrise" image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Just paint me a picture of what that looked like.

His crew left behind a plaque bearing the inscription: Here, men from planet earth first set foot upon the moon, We came in peace for all mankind. "Wow, is that pretty!". For the first time, humanity saw the Earth, this spinning blue and white world which contains everything we value.

The crew also shot the first picture of the Earth rising during a lunar orbit. "You have to think about that - over five billion people, everything I ever knew, was behind my thumb!"

Cowan asked, "Is it fair to say that that one image is one of the biggest catalysts for the environmental movement?"

SEVIGNY: I have the tape, do you want to listen to it? . He wishes there was something on the horizon today like Apollo 8 to bring people together. "I started to wonder why I was here, what's my objective here... it sort of dawned me", he said.

By July 1969, Apollo 8 was overshadowed by Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin moon landing.

On the other hand, seeing the Earth in contrast to space, is a reminder of how unique we are, and that we really should try and take care of this place that sustains our lives.

Lovell went on to command the ill-fated Apollo 13 - "but that's another story".

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