In December, 1968, NASA launched the first manned mission to the moon. No one, not even the astronauts on board, were certain that theyâ€™d return safely. Their journey, the â€œmost hazardous and dangerous ever embarked uponâ€, took them to ... ...
- In December of 1968,three brave astronauts
blasted off in what's beencalled the greatest adventure
of all time.
Their journey took themhigher, faster and farther
than man had ever gone before.
They became the firstexplorers to reach lunar orbit.
That Christmas missionproved that man could
make it to the moon and in doing so
they brought peace on earth.
On the 50th anniversaryof this historic voyage
we remember the epic story of Apollo 8.
- [Narrator] To put it mildly1968 was a terrible year.
Between the riots and the assassinations
the fabric of our nationwas being torn apart.
Outside our borders a thousandAmericans were being killed
in Vietnam every month.
Millions more lived underthe threat of a nuclear war.
At the same time, both the United States
and the Russians wereengaged in the space race.
The Soviets had a big edge.
The U.S. needed its bestsoldiers and scientists
for this battle.
With Frank Borman they had both.
He was an Air Force Fighter Pilot who had
a masters in aeronautical engineering.
In short, the perfectcandidate for America's
- The American effort tocatch the Russians in space
was gonna be a big oneand I had the background
and credentials, so Iapplied because I was
in the military and I was looking
for an opportunity to serve.
I'll be honest with you.
I wasn't interested in walking on the moon
or pickin' up rocks.
I didn't join because I'man explorer or adventurer.
My view is it was a seriousoperation akin to combat
and I was there for that reason.
- [Narrator] While thegovernment needed men
like Frank Borman, FrankBorman needed a woman
like Susan Bugbee.
The two married after Frankgraduated from West Point.
Soon the fighter pilotand his wife came up
with a code, the custard'sin the oven at 350,
meaning that Susan wouldtend to the household
and Frank would worry about the flying.
- Susan and I had alwayskidded about that, you know,
you do the custard and I'll do the flying.
She said look, we're a team.
If you wanna do it I'll support you.
She really wanted tobe a mother and a wife.
That was her outlookon life and she assumed
those responsibilities gladlyand really reveled in them.
Even though we wereseparated a lot, she really
raised our boys and shewas always supportive
and I don't know what Iwould have done without her.
- [Narrator] By 1968,astronaut Frank Borman,
spent 14 days in space and made 206 orbits
around the earth, but by thispoint NASA had fallen behind
schedule and all flights were grounded
after a fatal firekilled three astronauts.
Meanwhile, the Sovietshad plans to send men
around the moon by the end of the year.
America had to act and act fast
and with time ticking away NASA decided
to throw out the flight plans.
They wanted its astronautsaround the moon first
and so, in the course of one afternoon
they outlined the basicparameters of Apollo 8.
Frank Borman was named Commander.
Astronaut, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders
rounded out the crew.
The date was set.
Liftoff on December 21st, 1968,
giving everyone only a few weeks to train
for NASA's riskiest mission.
- Everybody was determined to win
and they were all motivated.
There was no slackers.
As a matter of fact, I thinkit was the greatest team
this country's everproduced since World War II.
- [Narrator] As launch date drew near,
Bill Anders told hiswife, there's a 33% chance
of a successful mission,a 33% chance they'd fail
but return home safelyand a 33% chance they
wouldn't come back at all.
Frank's wife, Susan, wasn't as optimistic.
She was 100% convinced herhusband would die on Apollo 8.
- After the mission shetold me that, but she never
told me that before the mission at all.
She said, you're the right one to lead it
and I'll support you100%, but she didn't have
the confidence I did andI guess I just presumed
too much that the, myconfidence was infectious.
- [Narrator] NASA's Jim Webbalso brought up another point.
Apollo 8 was scheduled to reachthe moon on December 24th.
If they failed Christmas would be ruined
and serve as one finalblow to a terrible year.
So, on December 20th, ataround T minus 12 hours
until liftoff, Frank Borman knelt down
by his bedside to pray.
- Well, I prayed ofcourse, the Lord's Prayer,
as I'd done every night of my life as long
as I can remember, but I alsoprayed that the basically
that the crew would do a good job
because we hadn't hada lotta time to train
and I didn't wantanybody to make a mistake
that would endanger the mission.
- [Narrator] After a sleepless night Frank
and his fellow astronautssuited up and were driven
eight miles to launching pad 39A
and on that chilly morningthe three men stood alone
before the biggestmachine ever built by man.
- The rocket had 5.6 millionparts, 1.5 million systems
and even if they all functionedwith 99.9% reliability,
that still left thedoor open for thousands
of potential defectswith each one of those
carrying the possibilityof being a fatal one.
If all that weren't enough, consider this.
No one had ever flownon one of these before.
For Anders, Lovell andBorman they all knew
the odds were stacked againstthem, but they didn't flinch.
- [Narrator] With threebrave astronauts 36 stories
in the air, the world waswatching the final countdown
to a mission that few believed would even
get off the ground.
- We're goin' through a checklist,listening to the ground.
- [Announcer] 15, 14.
- You're totally focused on your job.
- [Announcer] 13, 12.
- And it was just business.
- [Announcer] 11, 10, 9.
- Look, I'd like to saythat we did some heroic job
and we saved it.
Actually everything worked well.
- [Narrator] At 7:51 a.m.
- [Announcer] We haveignition sequence start.
The engines are on.
- [Narrator] First time in history.
- [Announcer] Four, three.
- [Narrator] Man was headed to the moon.
- [Announcer] One,zero, we have commenced,
we have, we have lift off.
7:51 a.m. Eastern Standard time.
- I think I would describethe basic characteristic
of the Saturn 5 launch asnoise and a little bit rough,
but I don't think our Gs got up more than
about five and a half or six.
All in all, the Saturnwas a wonderful ride.
- [Narrator] Within a fewminutes after liftoff,
Apollo 8 crew had gone higher than anyone
had ever gone before.
- And from standing on theground, 11 minutes later
you're in orbit.
I'd like to tell you I'ma born, it's wonderful
and you'd write about it,but it was interesting.
I get the same, I get the same feeling
when I look at the Grand Canyon.
- [Astronaut] This one is smoother.
- [Narrator] It made one and a half orbits
around the earth soMission Control could check
- [Mission Control] Youare a go for a TLI, over.
- [Narrator] Two hours laterin the expanse of space
the crew experienced a bit of a hiccup,
though truth be told, abit more than a hiccup.
- I got nauseated and Icouldn't contain it all
so it just went everywhere.
But, Lovell and Andersalso told me that they
got nauseated too, butthey didn't throw up
the way I did.
I still get game (laughing).
- [Narrator] For thebetter part of half a day
Frank battled with the urge to throw up
and actually doing so.
While NASA mulled overcanceling the mission,
the astronauts said thatwas out of the question.
They'd all worked toohard and come too far
to turn back.
- That's nonsense, aborting the mission
'cause you have, I can'tsee aborting the mission
for only the most dire reason.
- [Narrator] Frank foughtthrough his illness
and Apollo 8 continued on.
By the 55 hour markerof the flight Apollo 8
started to be reeled inby the moon's gravity.
The crew was now falling upwards towards
the lunar surface andthe most harrowing part
of their mission.
- In order to enter lunarorbit the astronauts
had to hit a narrow point 69 miles above
the moon's surface.
And just to underscore howmathematically complicated
that is, pretend this apple is the moon.
Hitting the exact righttrajectory would be
the equivalent of throwinga dart at this apple
from 28 feet away andjust grazing the skin.
And by the way, this apple is traveling
at 2300 miles an hour.
If the calculationswere off just a fraction
of a degree the astronautscould be lost in space forever
or crash right into the moon's surface.
And one more thing,
this complicated maneuver had to happen
in radio silence.
- You entered the lunar orbitwhen you were behind the moon.
So, there was nocommunication with the earth.
- [Narrator] Before lossof signal NASA passed on
a message from Frank'swife who wanted him to know
the custard's in the oven at 350.
- And I didn't connectwith it right off the bat.
And then, she obviously did and she wanted
to reassure me thateverything at home was okay.
- [Astronaut] Thanks a lot toots.
See you on the other side.
- [Narrator] As Susan Bormanwaited by the squawk box
the crew was 240,000 miles away.
There, alone and upsidedown, the astronauts
became the first men to ever lay eyes
on the barren landscape ofthe far side of the moon.
The time, a few minutes before 5 a.m.
On December 24th, Christmas Eve.
- I looked down and the lunar surface was
just different shades ofgray and black and white.
It looks like a sandpile my kids have been
playing in for a long time.
There were all kinds of craters
and volcanic, you know extinct volcanic.
It was a very distressed place.
- [Narrator] Shortlyafter spotting the moon
the crew fired the rockets to make sure
they weren't going too fast or too slow
for lunar orbit.
Four months of planning came down to this,
the crew's fate in thehands of calculations
from a bunch of kids fresh out of college.
- I think the averageage was something like 24
and they were wonderful people.
They were dedicated.
They were confident.
Very few of them outof what you would call
I don't think there was one Ivy Leaguer
in the whole bunch and theydid the job right every time.
- [Narrator] The whiz kids were spot on
and a little more than a half hour later
Mission Control regainedcontact with the ship.
- [Astronaut] This is Apollo 8.
- [Mission Control] Roger,good to hear your voice.
- [Narrator] And while the earth exhaled
the astronauts still had a job to do.
They had to make 10 orbits around the moon
to scout out potential landing sites
for future missions.
For hours upon hours they photographed
the arid terrain and on the fourth pass
across the arc of thelunar horizon Bill Anders
spotted something that changed the world.
- [Anders] Oh my God, lookat that picture over there.
- And we looked up andthere in the background
was the only object in the entire universe
that had any color.
- [Anders] Wow, is that pretty.
- And here we are a long wayfrom home and this beautiful
blue marble is floating backthere 240,000 miles away.
- [Astronaut] Gotta placethat's very clearly here.
- You had to remember thiswas the Christmas season.
I can't again speak forhow Jim and Bill felt,
but I was nostalgic.
I missed my family.
- [Astronaut] That's a beautiful shot.
- And when you look backand realize that the earth
is really alone in theuniverse it made me realize
at least that we'd better do a good job
of taking care of it.
- [Astronaut] It stilllooks little up here.
You may not got the right setting yet.
- Secondarily is, why can'twe get along a little better?
- [Narrator] At thatmoment Anders captured
a photo that has sincebeen called Earth Rise.
Time Magazine latersaid, in a war torn year
it captured the beauty and fragility
of our home planet.
Back at home families were gathered around
to celebrate Christmas Eveand watch Apollo's progress.
It's estimated that abillion people were tuned
in to the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast
and to the largestaudience in human history
the astronauts had amessage for all mankind.
- [Astronaut] How am I now Apollo?
- [Mission Control] Loud and clear.
- When we were told thatwe'd have the largest
audience, Jim and Billand I tried to focus
on what was appropriate.
- [Astronaut] The moonis a different thing
to each one of us.
- We came up with all kinds of things.
- [Astronaut] The vastloneliness up here of the moon
is awe inspiring.
- Some of 'em kinda silly about Christmas
and it was very difficult.
- [Astronaut] It makes yourealize just what you have
back there on earth.
- So, I asked a friendof mine and he couldn't
come up with anything.
- [Mission Control]Apollo 8 we've apparently
lost your voice, picture is still good.
- So, he had a friend that he trusted.
He spent one whole nightand they had nothing
but crumpled up note paper.
He couldn't figure out anything either.
It was about 3:30 or 4 o'clock, his wife
came walkin' down the stairs and said Joe,
what in the world are you doin'?
He said, explained what he was doin'.
And she said, why don't youjust start in the beginning
and he said, what do you mean, Genesis.
- [Astronaut] For allthe people back on earth
the crew of Apollo 8 hasa message that we would
like to send to you.
- As soon as it was suggestedto us all three of us
said, why didn't we think of that.
- [Astronaut] In the beginning God created
the heaven and the earth andthe earth was without form
and void and darkness wasupon the face of the deep.
- [Narrator] The crew readfrom the book of Genesis,
10 verses, straightfrom the creation story.
- [Astronaut] And theSpirit of God moved upon
the face of the waters.
- I think we were tryingto convey the fact
that it wasn't just allhappenstance that there
was a power behind theworld and behind life
that gave it meaning.
- [Astronaut] And God called the light day
and the darkness he called night.
And the evening and themorning were the first day.
- It was a very rewarding feeling for me
that here we were in acountry that felt that way.
- [Astronaut] And Godcalled the dry land earth.
- Now, can you imaginethat happening today?
Or, can you imagine if thathad been a Russian up there
and we'd heard about Leninand Stalin and communism.
All they told us was todo something appropriate.
- [Astronaut] And Godsaw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo8 we close with good night,
good luck, a merry Christmasand God bless all of you,
all of you on the good earth.
- [Narrator] Christmas dayarrived a few hours later
and with it time to come home.
As the astronauts reflectedon the holiday at the moon
Anders dad, Pandy, hopedhe wouldn't be spending
New Year's there as well.
The concern was real.
If the engines failed to fire the crew
would be stuck in lunar orbit forever.
With this on his mind Anders left behind
two tapes for hischildren, one to be played
later that morning for Christmas,
one to be played if it was clear
he wasn't coming home at all.
Meanwhile, Susan Borman, beganwriting her husband's eulogy.
- I never looked at it that way.
I felt we were, with absolute certainty,
that we were gonna be comin' back.
- [Narrator] As Susansat at her kitchen table
the Apollo 8 crew was in radio silence.
- [Mission Control] Apollo 8 Houston.
- [Narrator] Finally, at12:25 a.m. Christmas morning
Jim Lovell's voice crackledthrough the speakers.
- [Jim] Apollo 8 over.
- [Mission Control] HelloApollo 8, loud and clear.
- We got the confirmation that we were,
we were on a perfect trajectory was one
of great satisfaction.
- [Mission Control]Roger, please be informed
there is a Santa Claus.
- The fact that it all worked well,
we all thought it would work well,
but it did work well.
It was a great moment.
- [Narrator] At longlast the Apollo 8 crew
was on its way home, afinal quarter million miles
to conclude history'slongest holiday trip.
Before long, to the garbledtune of O Holy Night
the sleepy crew is gettingready for re-entry.
Back at home in the Borman household
presents would have to wait.
Susan refused to open anything until she
could do so with her husband.
Instead, she took her boys to church
and there the reverendprayed for the benefit
of one member of thecongregation that the God
of time and space watch over and protect
the astronauts of our country.
Shortly after, thousandsupon thousands of miles away,
the exhausted crew triedgetting some much needed rest
when a tired Jim Lovellpunched a wrong button.
- The spacecraft orientedto what it thought
was the launch positionand so, we had a mess
there for a while.
- [Narrator] The ship wasin essence, flying blind.
- I'm gonna defend Jimbecause that was one
part of the software thatshould have been protected.
You should've had tohave a PIN or something
before you got to that part of the memory.
- [Narrator] Afterputting in the coordinates
and some good natured ribbing,Apollo 8 continued on.
- I wouldn't let himforget either, you know,
what the dickens?
That was, I never even thought about.
We fixed it up and that was fine.
- [Mission Control] I toldMichael you guys are up there
and he said, who's drivin'.
- [Astronaut] That's a good question.
I think Isaac Newton's doingmost of the driving right now.
- [Narrator] With IsaacNewton in the driver's seat
Apollo 8 picked up speed.
Soon they were racing home 10 times faster
than a bullet fired from a rifle
and on the morning of December 27th,
the crew was given the go for re-entry.
- [Mission Control]Everything's looking good.
- First place, you hadto relieve an enormous
thermal load on the spacecraft.
- [Narrator] That meantjetting the service module.
Now, all that was left ofthe massive Saturn 5 rocket
was a 10 ft. cone.
- You come into theatmosphere at a very shallow
but a definite down angle.
- [Narrator] This angle had to be precise,
too shallow and the crewwould skip off the earth,
too deep and they'd be incinerated.
And like many other partsof this mission this had
never been done before.
- As a matter of fact, Idon't think it has really
had a successful, or acomplete test of that
even on men, but again,it worked perfectly.
- [Narrator] The earth'satmosphere would slow
the ship down, but there was a tradeoff,
it would generate heat justoutside the spacecraft,
a few feet from the astronaut's faces.
Temperatures rose to5000 degrees, half that
of the surface of the sun.
- [Astronaut] You lit Apollo, over.
It's a real fireball, lookin' good.
- [Narrator] With the addedheat came added pressure.
In this case six timesthe weight of gravity.
- When you take those kindof Gs your eyes flatten out
so you get tunnel vision,lookin' like this.
It's hard to breathe.
Feel like you have a elephantsittin' on your chest.
But when you pull six Gs for six minutes
it becomes a little more interesting.
So, toward the end of the six minutes
I think we were all huffin' and puffin'.
- [Narrator] As the G forcespressed on the astronauts
Anders saw baseball sizechunks of the heat shield
- Later on they found outthat the baseball size ones
he found were reallyabout an eighth of an inch
- [Narrator] By this point the entire ship
was like a manned comet.
One Pan Am pilot saw the craftand estimated its fiery tail
to be 100 miles long.
At 40,000 feet theastronauts were hurdling
to the Pacific at 680 miles an hour
and NASA could only hope the crew
was on the right trajectory.
- [Mission Control] KenMattingly just put in a call
and he's gotten no response as yet.
- [Narrator] And then.
- [Astronaut] Houston, Apollo 8, over.
- [Narrator] The parachutedeployed and another
and the ship softlyglided down to the ocean.
At exactly 4:51 local on December 27th,
right on its scheduled time and location,
the ship splashed down into the waters,
147 hours after blastoff,the Apollo 8 crew
was back home.
- I'd like to tell youthat I flew it perfectly
because I am the, I was the world's best,
I may still be the world'sbest pilot, but nevertheless,
it was all on the auto pilot.
- [Narrator] Inside the cramped quarters
of the command module whilewaiting for the rescue crew,
bobbing up and down inthe middle of the ocean,
once again Frank Borman barfed.
- This time I aimed at Lovell and Anders
'cause they were givin' me a hard time.
- [Narrator] Aboard the USSYorktown the three astronauts
received a heroes welcome.
- Stepping out on a carrierafter successful mission
with all the work and effortthat had gone into it,
not just by the crew, but byall the Americans involved,
was a very very gratifying moment.
I was, I was almostoverwhelmed with gratitude.
- [Narrator] The New York Times celebrated
the Apollo 8 mission asthe most fantastic journey
of all time.
The Washington EveningStar said, man's horizon
now reaches to infinity.
- It felt wonderful.
We'd done the job.
We were back on earth.
I was gonna see my family in a few hours.
I mean, it's a high pointof your life really.
- [Narrator] The Apollo 8 journey proved
man could make it to the moon.
Minutes after arriving home Frank Borman,
who joined NASA to helpAmerica fight the Cold War
was getting congratulated by the President
of the United States.
- Well, I'd like to tell youit made me feel wonderful
and there was this and thatand grand, but to be honest
with you, I neverthought a thing about it.
I was extremely proudof the fact that we had
done our job and themission was successful
and we beat the Russians.
- [Narrator] For their part, the Russians
never reached the moon,
and after their defeat in the space race
they stopped trying.
The Soviets said they hoped Apollo 8
would open the door to more cooperation
between them and the United States.
That dream came true and even today
Russian cosmonauts andAmericans work side by side.
- I think we contributedto winning the Cold War.
I think that was an important factor
in winning the Cold War.
- [Narrator] The readingof Genesis would go down
in lore and the Popehimself later remarked,
in that moment the world had peace.
- I think that had moreimpact than anything else,
but how am I to know?
I was onboard, just fromwhat I've read since.
- [Narrator] Prior to Apollo8's successful mission
Time Magazine was gonna name the desenter
as its man of the year,but after the astronauts
returned home Bill Anders,Jim Lovell and Frank Borman
were given the honor instead.
- We got of course,thousands of telegrams,
but the one that was,the only one I remember
to be honest with you,it said, congratulations,
you saved 1968.
- [Narrator] The following July
- [Astronaut] One small step for man.
- [Narrator] Neil Armstrongtook mankind's first steps
on the lunar surface.
- [Astronaut] One giant leap for mankind.
- [Narrator] He did so inthe sea of tranquility,
an area Bill Andersphotographed as a potential
landing site on Apollo 8.
Anders left NASA after the moon landing
and held a variety of government jobs
before moving into the private sector.
He and his wife, Valarie, are now retired
and live in Washington state.
Jim Lovell was Neil Armstrong'sbackup on Apollo 11.
Later, he was the commanderof the ill fated Apollo 13.
It's said the navigational skills he honed
under pressure during Apollo 8 helped save
the lives of himself andhis crew members on 13.
Lovell never flew again after that
and for his service hewas awarded both the
Congressional Space Medal of Honor
and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He and his wife, Marilyn,live near Chicago
near the science museum that now houses
the command module from Apollo 8.
The rumor around NASAwas that Frank Borman
was the first choice to be the first man
to walk on the moon.
And when Neil Armstrong was chosen instead
Frank was relieved.
He didn't wanna put Susanthrough the stresses
of a longer and even harder mission.
- Once we had done ourjob I felt that we had
done our job and so, I left.
- [Narrator] And withhis Cold War complete
Frank Borman went on to bethe CEO of Eastern Airlines
before retiring to a ranch in Montana,
still the Apollo 8 missionis fresh on his mind.
- Wasn't the astronauts.
400,000 Americans made it happen.
The taxpayers made it happen.
It was a wonderful demonstrationof what this country
can do when it finally pullstogether in one direction
because it was one time where people
were able to put the objectivebefore everything else.
The mission was more importantto the people in Apollo,
in NASA, than anything else.
- [Narrator] And after alifetime of watching his family
sacrifice so he couldserve his country, Frank
is repaying the favor.
10 years ago Susan wasdiagnosed with Alzheimer's
and every morning Frank is by her side.
- I can't tell you what I love most.
She's just been a wonderfulpartner and friend.
She's the most unselfish person I've ever
known in my life.
I was very very fortunate.
- [Narrator] 50 years after Apollo 8
and 240,000 miles from the moon
Frank Borman has embarkedon his final mission,
his greatest one yet.
- You hope for the best
and trust in the Lord.