Apollo 8 was a watershed mission in the Apollo Project not just for NASA and the United States, but it also had a profound impact on how humanity viewed the Earth. Though the concept of the Earth as a spaceship hurtling through the cosmos had been around for a while, notably in Buckminster Fuller's quote: "...we're all astronauts aboard a little spaceship called Earth", the Christmas broadcast of the beautiful blue Earth floating in the blackness of space instantly and irrevocably changed how we looked at our only home.
On the evening of December 24th, 1968, having entered lunar orbit earlier that day, the crew closed their televised message back to Earth by reading the following passages from the Book of Genesis as they beamed back the iconic image of Earthrise over the moon:
"For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you".
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,
and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament
from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven.
And the evening and the morning were the second day."
"And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place,
and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas:
and God saw that it was good."
Borman signed off with:
"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."
The emotional impact of this broadcast, the feeling of the times during the Apollo project and the "race to the moon", specially as experienced from a child's point of view, i.e., free of the overtones of geopolitics and the Cold War, is hard to convey. It was a moment in the 1960s that was pregnant with possibility and the belief that people could be perfectly altruistic. It gave us hope that we were not going to blow the Earth to smithereens. It also was one of the first truly international broadcasts and in some ways the birth of the global village.
The mission was in fact, a purely political move. As originally scheduled in the Apollo project plan, Apollo 8, which was only the second manned Apollo shot, was to be an Earth orbit mission to test the lunar lander systems. NASA suspected that the Soviet Union was going to attempt to beat the United States to a circumlunar mission and decided to change the mission profile.
Jim Lovell would go on to fly as commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Interestingly enough, if the accident had happened to Apollo 8, they would have died. In their haste to beat the Russians Apollo 8 had not carried a lunar module which Apollo 13 used as a lifeboat.
Apollo 8 Christmas Broadcast, http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo8_xmas.html, 7/24/2004
Fuller Projection Map, http://www.bfi.org/map.htm, 7/24/2004
Apollo 8, http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo-8/apollo-8.htm, 7/24/2004
Apollo 8-wikipedeia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_8, 7/24/2004