Winter Solstice, Apollo 8 Programs Set For Friday at Griffith Observatory

Winter Solstice, Apollo 8 Programs Set For Friday at Griffith Observatory

Fifty years ago today, Apollo 8 carried the first humans into orbit around the Moon, ushering in a short-lived period of crewed lunar exploration.

"This is the first time human beings ever left home", says Rob Kurson, author of Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon, which documents the astronauts journey. In his mind, a single lap around the moon would suffice.

The crew of Apollo 8 spent 20 hours in orbit, before returning to Earth.

Later that evening, the crew did a live TV broadcast, showing images of the Earth and moon to what has been described as the largest TV audience in history at the time.

It was Christmas Eve 1968, and three American astronauts were in the midst of a mission to boldly go where no man had gone before.

KELLY: And get you home, yeah. The three astronauts completed ten orbits of the Moon and the spacecraft and ground support were thoroughly tested. Only now, on Christmas Eve day, 1968, nobody knew it. 'Earthrise marked the tipping point, the moment when the sense of the space age flipped from what it meant for space to what it means for Earth, ' wrote Dr Robert Poole, reader in history at the University of Central Lancashire, in his 2008 book, Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth. All the shots of the moon were framed in the spacecraft's round windows.

Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins gets a turn in the spotlight as well, by virtue of his role as Mission Control's capsule communicator.

On Christmas morning, Jim Lovell radioed that, "Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus". And for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you.

GERRY CARR: Apollo 8, Houston.

JIM LOVELL: And it was actually his wife. "And when they splashed down six days later, there didn't seem to be a single person in this country who could disagree that something handsome and miraculous had happened". "And the dearest things in life were back on the Earth, my family, my wife", he said. Anders said. "There's the Earth coming up". The spacecraft's orientation angled their viewports so that they could only see the surface of the Moon passing by, below.

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Anders is critical of NASA and its mission since the Apollo era calling the space shuttle "a serious error" and stating that NASA has mismanaged the manned program since the late lunar landings.

Anders snapped the iconic Earthrise photo during the crew's fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching from black-and-white to color film to capture the planet's exquisite, fragile beauty. Just paint me a picture of what that looked like.

"It was the only thing in space that had any color to it".

Perhaps most significant is the impact it had on the environmental movement.

Lovell remains awestruck by the fact he could hide all of Earth behind his thumb.

After Anders's statement, NASA was approached by many journalists to say something about this matter, but NASA refused to issue any statement regarding this topic.

Borman and Anders never flew in space again, and Soviet cosmonauts never made it to the moon.

Earthrise is now one of the most reproduced space photos of all time, appearing on USA postage stamps, posters, and the cover of Time magazine in 1969. It would be followed, most notably, by the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, and five more successful landings until Chicago native Eugene Cernan left the last boot-prints on the moon December 14, 1972.

LOVELL: In the beginning because on 13 I was that close.

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