Remembering Apollo 8

Earthrise taken by Apollo 8

Earthrise from the Moon, Apollo 8, December 1968 (NASA).

Apollo 11 was not the alpha and omega of the entire Apollo program; last December, there was another 40th anniversary commemorated: that of Apollo 8, the first manned space mission to leave the vicinity of Earth and orbit the Moon. Subsequent events — i.e., six successful moon landings — have obscured just how significant that was seen at the time. Apart from the achievement in and of itself, the flight of Apollo 8 was seen as one bright spot in a year that saw a lot of pain — war in Vietnam, the Prague Spring, riots in France, the assassinations of MLK and RFK. The crew of Apollo 8 — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders — were selected as Time’s men of the year for 1968 (cover).

Nowadays, Lovell is better known as the commander of Apollo 13, thanks to the movie; Borman and Anders have comparatively low profiles among the moon voyagers, since neither of them landed on the Moon. (I was disappointed, for example, that neither of them appear in In the Shadow of the Moon.) All three astronauts did, however, reunite for talk about Apollo 8 at 40th anniversary celebrations at the Newseum in Washington last November. NASA has video from the event on YouTube: part one, part two, part three.

PBS’s American Experience had an episode on Apollo 8 (,, but I haven’t seen it.