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Remember 1968: How Apollo 8 sent a timeless holiday greeting from heaven

Although the moon seems ever so familiar, we are really barely familiar. Only a few souls have ever ventured there and back, and of those who have few remains.

Bill Anders is one of those who still flies high at the age of 85. As correspondent Lee Cowan noted, to see an Apollo astronaut in the eye, it is hard not to imagine what those eyes have seen, Anders especially

Fifty years ago this week, on Christmas Eve, he and the crew of Apollo saw 8 our home as no man ever had, like a holiday ornament hanging over the moon.

"It was ironic that we had done all this work to come and explore the moon, and what we really discovered was the earth," said Anders.

The year was 1

968. Little seemed right with the world that Christmas. War, riots, murder – the mood was hardly festive, the author of a new book on Apollo 8, Jeffrey Kluger, said. "This was a year of sorrow and suffering and of massive bloodshed," Kluger said.

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Henry Holt

"And since the end of the year we had this amazing thing right now. It was serendipity that said," Humanity, you deserve a break, get the most out. ""

The launch of Apollo 8 was set for only four days before Christmas. The canister that sat high on the most powerful machine ever built looked small then, and still, where it sits at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

"I found myself suddenly 360 feet tall," recalled astronaut Jim Lovell, sitting in the middle seat. "I looked down below, and there were news media people coming in to park their cars. It was still dark. And I was thinking of myself:" They send me to the moon! ""

Apollo 8's commander, Frank Borman said, "My greatest reminder of Saturn V was the noise. There is no way to simulate or train for the sound that the animal sets out."

Borman knew that this would be a mission full of first – no man has ever traveled anymore. If everything went right, humanity would never be the same. But to Borman it was only a first thing that brought meaning: "What I wanted to do was go to the moon and return to life, because I knew it would hit the Russians."

So, everyone – the Russians included – was glued to their televisions. Although it seemed that we were right there with them, Apollo 8 was really very much alone.

"I could put my thumb up to the window and completely hide the earth," Lovell says. "You have to think about it – over five billion people, all I ever knew was behind my thumb!"

Correspondent Lee Cowan asked, "Have you said anything to each other? I mean it was the first time humanity had ever left the earth's trait."

"I think it was the least of our worries!" Lovell laughed.

Together they went not only to the moon; they happened to wrap it ten times.

But then it happened: On Christmas Eve, the lonely, barren place received some human magazines of great joy.

Lovell said, "We are like three schoolchildren looking at a candy shop window and looking at the old old craters on the long side, slowly slowly below us."

But what they looked at turned out almost as hard as getting there. "I said it looked like dirty beach sand," Anders recalled. "So I described it and sold you the wrath of the poets all over the world! Couldn't you have done better?" Probably! "

They didn't really need words at the end. As it turned out, a single photo would make the most of the talk – a shot of the earth coming over the horizon.

" Wow, it's cute! "

Problem was that they had precious little film on board; what they had been meant to be used to take pictures of the moon, not the earth. But Anders did it anyway.

Anders said, "Even if it doesn't was in the airplane … hell with that, you know? Here was a beautiful shot. "

" Give me a roll of color, fast! "

Known as" Earthrise "it became one of the most reproduced images ever, partly because no other photograph summarized our site universe (our little place in it) quite like this:

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"" This was just a beacon of hope and surprise, "said former Vice President Al Gore." It pointed the way to a new understanding of who we are as human beings, even for a moment. "[19659002] For the environmentalist, the image showing how fragile our world is. It is the spirit of climate change exhibited by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and that is the core of almost every climate presentation Gore has ever given

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

"Oh, no doubt about it," Gore replied. "Within a year a half, the first Earth Day was organized, [and] Speed ​​of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, arose. It turned the environmental movement into what it was in the immediate aftermath of that image. "

That alone may have been enough to secure Apollo 8's place in the conscience of humanity. But that was not the last word.

On that Christmas evening, the crew sent a holiday message to the world.

Cowan asked:" Do you have an idea, how many people would you listen to and watch? "

" Yes, we were told we would get the largest audience ever listening to a human voice earlier, "Borman said.

But what do you say? What words would resonate through heaven on one of the holiest nights of the year? The astronauts settled on those who already had, from the Genesis book.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and emptiness. And the darkness was on the face of the depth … "

Kluger said," It was absolutely perfect. They were three words in some ways very ordinary people. I always say that they had a lot of lunch bucket names: Frank and Bill and Jim. What could be more human than that? "

Cowan asked Borman:" Did you know what kind of impact it would have? "

" No, but when we flew and as we thought of afterwards, we all agreed that we could not have done anything more appropriate. "

Apollo 8 came at the end of one of our most turbulent years, during a season it's about peace." We got thousands of telegrams after the flight, but one that hit me the most, "Thank you Apollo 8. You saved in 1968," Borman said. "And I think in a way we helped heal it."

"And from the crew Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless you all, all of you on the good earth."

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History produced by Reid Orvedahl.

More from our series "Rem embering 1968":

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