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Apollo 8: Mankind’s Most Epic Journey (Extended Version)

In December, 1968, NASA launched the first manned mission to the moon. No one, not even the astronauts on board, were certain that they’d return safely. Their journey, the “most hazardous and dangerous ever embarked upon”, took them to ... ... Read Transcript


- 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.

(dramatic music)

- [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

astronaut program.

- 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.

(mumbling)

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

for problems.

- [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

elite schools.

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.

Calm down.

- 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

flying away.

- Later on they found outthat the baseball size ones

he found were reallyabout an eighth of an inch

in diameter.

- [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.

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