Race to the Moon
Narrator: On December 21, 1968, the countdown to one of the greatest moments in exploration began. The first manned lunar flight, Apollo 8, was scheduled to fly 230,000 miles out into space, orbit the moon ten times and return home. For the first time in history, humans were poised to head away from Earth and venture out to another world.
Christopher Kraft, Apollo flight operations director: It took a lot of guts. It took a lot of nerve to do Apollo 8. The biggest thing about Apollo 8 that I was impressed with was that the country let us do it. It showed the guts of this country, the real capability of this country, the real willingness of this country to do some things that were forward reaching and took some nerve to do.
Susan Borman, wife of commander Frank Borman: We knew that the Russians were hell bent to do the same thing and by golly we were going to get there first. But I didn't really think they would get them back. I just didn't see how they could. Everything was for the first time. Everything.
Narrator: While everyone knew the stakes were high, few realized the full level of risk NASA was assuming on Apollo 8. Even its flight operations director privately set the chance of a safe return at just 50%. Across the country, Americans watched in awe as Apollo 8 set out on man's first journey to the moon.
Walter Cronkite, journalist, archival footage: It was all there in our emotions as it took off. It was a combination of concern for their safety and knowing that this was this great pioneering adventure. It was an event beyond all other events.
President John F. Kennedy, archival footage: We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.
Narrator: In 1962, when President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to sending men to the moon before the end of the decade, NASA was already struggling to catch up with its counterpart in the Soviet Union. Encouraged by Kremlin leaders to create high-profile missions, the Soviets had awed the world time and again with their achievements in space: the first satellite, the first man in orbit, the first long duration flight, the first dual capsule flights, the first woman in space, the first spacewalk. In the eyes of the world, through the mid 1960s, the Soviets were the leaders in space exploration.
Andrew Chaikin, Space historian: NASA wanted to beat the Russians. That's what this program was about, to show the world that the American system, the American way of doing things could do great things and that was as much a public relations goal as an engineering goal.
Narrator: To move ahead of the Russians and land a man on the moon, NASA launched the ambitious Apollo program. But by 1968, after a series of technical setbacks, the program had slipped far behind schedule. With the Soviets pushing towards a lunar flight before the end of the year, NASA managers gambled on a daring move to put the Apollo program back on track ... a risky mission to orbit the moon.
Walter Cronkite: Six and a half years ago, John F. Kennedy set this nation on a course toward the moon. This morning three Americans -- Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders -- are on the verge of making man's first journey to the moon.
Mission Control: We have ignition sequence start.
The engines are armed. Four. Three. Two. One. Zero.
We have commit. We have lift-off. Lift-off, the clock is running. Roger clock.
Walter Cronkite: This building is shaking under us. But what a beautiful flight. Man perhaps on his way to the moon.
Mission Control: Mark, mode 1 bravo Apollo 8.
Apollo 8: Roger that, mode 1B.
Narrator: These 3 brave men are the Columbuses of space wrote The New York Times, the first of the human species to embark upon the exploration of our solar system.
Mission Control: Altitude going up now, looking real good.
Narrator: Eight minutes into the flight, Apollo 8 was traveling at a speed of 17,000 miles an hour, and soon they were orbiting 115 miles above the Earth.
Mission Control: We're go flight. Altitude is nominal
Narrator: The Apollo 8 crew, all former fighter pilots, was commanded by Air Force Colonel Frank Borman. A hard-nosed West Point graduate, Borman viewed his mission as a key battle in the Cold War. He was so focused on getting his crew home safely that he had fought to eliminate any risk he could, even arguing unsuccessfully against bringing a TV camera on board.
Narrator: Flying his first space mission, Bill Anders was a meticulous engineer who had trained as a lunar landing module pilot. But on Apollo 8 his main job would be surveying the lunar landscape for future landing sites, while taking the first up-close photographs of the moon.
Narrator: Cast from a different mold than his crewmates, James Lovell Jr. was Apollo 8's Command Module Pilot and Navigator. Unusually easy-going in the precision-minded world of Apollo, Lovell's job would be to confirm the capsule's navigation and fire the rockets during all critical maneuvers. As Apollo 8 prepared to leave Earth orbit, Lovell had already spent more time in space than any other human being.
Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8, How do you read me on the high gain?
Mission Control: Yeah, reading you loud and clear Bill, how me?
Narrator: Two hours and forty five minutes into the flight, the crew prepared to fire their rocket again for Trans Lunar Injection -- TLI -- the step that would catapult them out of Earth orbit and on their way, 230,000 miles to the moon.
Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston
Apollo 8: Go ahead Houston.
Mission Control: Apollo 8, you are go for TLI.
Apollo 8: Roger. Understand. We are go for TLI.
Mission Control: 20 seconds to ignition.
Narrator: Since 1961 when the Soviet Union flew the first manned flight, 34 Soviets and Americans had orbited the Earth, but no one had ever headed straight out.
Andrew Chaikin: The farthest that any astronauts had ever gone from the surface of the Earth was 850 miles on one of the Gemini flights. That is about like looking at a peach and skimming the fuzz on the surface of the peach. We're talking about a much bigger step.
Mission Control: 3, 2, 1. Ignition. We confirm ignition and the thrust is go.
Andrew Chaikin: The engine on the third stage lights up and they can feel themselves accelerating out of Earth's orbit. And within minutes they are farther from the Earth than anybody has ever been before and they're going farther, and they're going faster and on the computer read-out you can see the velocity galloping upwards.
Mission Control: Apogee now 800 miles and climbing.
Apollo 8, Houston. You're looking good here.
Apollo 8: Roger. Apollo 8.
Andrew Chaikin: They're getting up to twenty-five thousand miles an hour which is what it takes to get you out of Earth's gravitational well and onto a path to the moon.
Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston. Trajectory and guidance look good. Roger, Apollo 8. Looks good here.
Apollo 8, Houston. We're predicting cut-off at 2:55:58 and it looks exactly nominal here. Thank you.
Narrator: As Apollo 8 embarked upon their six day mission, they left behind a deeply troubled planet. Through 1968, America had suffered through one shock after another: the escalating war in Viet Nam and the rise of Anti-war protests at home; the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy; Race riots in the cities; and chaos at the Democratic National Convention.
As troubles mounted in the outside world, NASA had been struggling for nearly two years with its own problems. In January 1967, before the first manned Apollo flight had even flown, a flash fire erupted in the Apollo 1 capsule killing the crew during a routine drill. NASA immediately grounded manned flights for 18 months, as engineers furiously redesigned the Apollo capsule. The next five unmanned tests of the massive Saturn 5 rocket system, including flights that were called Apollo 4, 5 and 6, were hampered by technical problems that sent the rocket team back to the drawing board again and again. And by early 1968, it was apparent that construction of the lunar landing module was also hopelessly behind schedule. Apollo manager George Low spent several months trying to come up with some way to get the program back on track. Low knew that something drastic had to be done to preserve any realistic chance that an American would land on the moon before the end of the decade.
Andrew Chaikin: Low very quietly reviewed the situation and came up with this brilliant idea to take the second Apollo flight, and instead of sending it into Earth orbit with a lunar lander that wasn't going to be ready, send it to the moon without a lander. Just do the part that says we're gonna go from the Earth to the moon, test out the communications, the navigation, all of those things that you're going to have to do anyway, later on for a landing. You don't need the Lunar Module for that mission.
John Logsdon, Space historian: We haven't flown humans on Saturn 5, we haven't flown the redesigned capsule, but we're supposed to decide now to fly humans on the first Saturn 5 in that capsule to the moon?
Chris Kraft: He said, "Can we do a lunar fly-by? Can we fly around the moon and come back? Do you think that is possible to do?" And my first reaction to that was no, I don't think we can do it ... to get all the control center ready, to get the network ready, to get the crews trained, to get ourselves, the flight control team, trained, and to be confident that we know what we are doing, I think it would be a very difficult thing to do.
Jerry Bostick, Retrofire officer: I thought at first it was a pretty wild idea. But the more that I thought about it, and we only had a couple of days really to assess it, to see if we really could or not, I changed my mind and thought it was a bold idea, and yes, we could.
Chris Kraft: At that point I said, "yes, we want to give it a shot. But we have to tell you this: if we're going to do it we want to go in orbit around the moon we don't just want to fly around the moon ... we're willing to try. We're willing to start working on these programs; we're willing to start shooting for that time period with building all these things we've got to build."
Narrator: Low and Kraft had a tough time selling the plan to NASA's chief administrator, James Webb, who was still reeling from the Apollo 1 fire. Webb told his managers that their idea would put the whole program at risk, but in mid-August, he gave tacit approval to a reworked schedule that would send Apollo 8 into lunar orbit at Christmas.
Glynn Lunney, Flight director: The whole thing just clicked into place. It was like perhaps it had been out of focus if I'd thought about it. But the Apollo 8 decision was the gate opener, the gate opener to the landing.
Susan Borman: My husband came home. ... And he as best he could said what he had just volunteered for, and I was trying to absorb what he was telling me. And this is August, you haven't tested the capsule yet. December, that's what, three some odd months. But usually you train for a year. To the moon?
Narrator: For four months the flight crew of Apollo 8 and their ground crew trained relentlessly, working with a whole new mission plan and pushing to develop all the technical skills required by the new flight.
Chris Kraft: It compressed everything that we were doing. It compressed building the software in the computers to go to the moon. It compressed measuring the instrumentation that we had to look at the spacecraft when we were going to the moon. And we convinced ourselves, ... okay, we're now ready to go, we think we can do the flight control; we think we can do the computers, we're satisfied the spacecraft is going to work, so let's get ready and go.
Narrator: While NASA pushed to get ready for Apollo 8, the Soviets were busy preparing for their own lunar mission. In mid-September of 1968 they sent a capsule looping around the moon carrying turtles, mealworms, and a life-sized mannequin. Then in mid-November Zond 6 carried another payload around the moon.
Knowing that the Russians had a brief window to launch a lunar flight in early December, Americans sensed that the race to the moon was coming down to the wire. NASA's worst fears were realized when the CIA sent word in late November that a Soviet rocket capable of carrying two men was moving into launch position. Just a month before Apollo 8, it looked like the Soviets would out-maneuver the Americans once again.
Alexi Leonov, Soviet cosmonaut: People in our country were convinced that we would be the first to land on the moon, because they were used to the fact that we were always the first, the first the first.
Narrator: What no one outside the Soviet leadership knew was that both unmanned Zond flights in the fall had problems during re-entry that would have killed a cosmonaut. In the upper reaches of the Soviet government a heated debate was underway over whether or not to risk sending men on a December flight to the moon.
Alexi Leonov: We could have done it six months earlier. Two of the crews had passed all of the tests and trials. Certainly, it was only the indecisiveness of our chief designer at the time, Vasily Pavlovich Mishin that caused us to fall behind in this program.
Narrator: As NASA managers held their breath, the window for a Soviet launch came and went. Soviet leaders were ultimately unwilling to risk a crew without another test flight.
Narrator: While the Apollo 8 astronauts made final preparations for their flight, at Cape Canaveral, their wives were left in Houston, caring for their families on their own.
Marilyn Lovell, Wife of astronaut Jim Lovell: I would say they were probably gone six days out of every week. We had to fend for ourselves, I mean, we didn't expect them to worry about us and I would say that we probably kept many things ... of the family to ourselves. As much as I tried to hide my fears even from myself it was not easy on any of us. And it was not easy on our children, especially the older children who understood what was happening.
Susan Borman: We'd say how proud we were, how confident we were, and then I'd go inside and kick a door in! I thought ... they're rushing it, they're leap frogging, they're too anxious to get it going. And I just sort of figured maybe you'd better face up to that and give it some thought and stop living in this cocoon because this time it is not just another test flight
Valerie Anders, Wife of astronaut Bill Anders: We thought, we're in this, this is our life, we're military wives, we're not trained for this, but this is the kind of life we live. And there were other wives, in other parts of our country at that time, who were wives of people missing in action in Vietnam, who were wives of fighter pilots, fighting in Vietnam, and that's what our role would have been, had it not been this.
Narrator: Just weeks before lift-off, outgoing President Johnson asked the astronauts to leave Cape Canaveral to attend a gala dinner at the White House.
Valerie Anders: The wives were flown from Houston to the White House, and all I remember was being extremely nervous because the Hong Kong flu was going around. And I don't remember anything about what happened in the East Room. There was some operetta or show put on and all I heard was coughing and sneezing and thinking, "this crew will be sick on the flight; they shouldn't be here." At the end of that program we said 'good-bye' to them in a room full of people and he gave me some tapes that were to be played if something happened to him. And I think we were very aware when we said good-bye, that this could be good-bye.
Narrator: Shortly after breaking out of Earth orbit on December 21, the Apollo 8 crew jettisoned their last booster rocket and watched in awe as the Earth receded in the capsule window.
Apollo 8: I can see most of South America, all the way up to Central America, Yucatan, and the peninsula of Florida. There is a big swirling motion just off the east coast, and then going on over toward the east, I can still see West Africa.
Mission Control: Good grief, that must be quite a view.
Apollo 8: Yes. Tell the people in Tierra del Fuego to put on their raincoats; looks like a storm is out there.
Walter Cronkite: So much rested, the hopes of America, the hopes of the world perhaps ... rested on the success of that mission. This was man escaping his environment really, out to the very moon itself, knowing that the moon would never look the same again, that once man had been there and we'd known they'd been there and returned safely. Everything was there and it all rested in that spaceship.
Narrator: Eleven hours into the flight with another two and a half days to go before they reached the moon, Frank Borman was the first scheduled for sleep, but before he turned in, the crew had one crucial maneuver to perform -- a short test of the only remaining engine, the Service Propulsion System or "SPS." At the moon, it would have to slow the Command Module enough to allow it to drop into lunar orbit. After orbiting the moon 10 times, the SPS would have to burn again to send the crew home.
Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8.
Mission Control: Go Ahead.
Apollo 8: Roger. The burn was on time -- about 2 seconds.
Narrator: Initial readings showed the SPS test looked good. For a couple of restless hours Borman tossed and turned in a hammock below the seats, struggling with nausea. Then, after taking a sleeping pill, he became seriously ill with both vomiting and diarrhea. When doctors in Mission Control learned of Borman's condition, they immediately suspected a virus in the capsule. The doctors alerted the Apollo directors, and they slipped out of Mission control for a private conference about whether to abort the mission. While they were absent, Mission Control was jolted by more bad news -- closer analysis of the SPS test, showed a slight malfunction.
Glynn Lunney: We fired this engine, which was a confidence burn. It was intended to give us confidence that this engine, which we were counting on at the moon, was going to be all right. Lo and behold, the engine didn't behave properly. So we're sitting here looking at that, stuck with, "Oh, my God, is this engine not working right? Does this mean we cannot go all the way to the moon and put the vehicle in orbit? Do we have to turn around and come back?"
Narrator: After 10 minutes of anxious debate, NASA engineers reported that the malfunction was likely temporary and they believed the engine would work properly when fired again to go into lunar orbit. Without enough fuel to test the engine again, 32-year-old Flight Director Glynn Lunney made the call to proceed on course.
Narrator: When Kraft and Low returned from their deliberations over Borman's illness, they accepted the decision on the SPS, having made a similar call about the crew's health. By now the commander was feeling a little better, and the other astronauts were showing no signs of infection. Though off to a rocky start, the mission would continue as planned.
Narrator: At 2pm on December 22, the second day of the mission, networks interrupted Sunday programming for the first televised broadcast from Apollo 8.
Archival Apollo footage: This transmission is coming to you approximately half way between the moon and the Earth. We have been 31 hours and about 20 minutes into the flight. We have about less than forty hours left to go to the moon. You can see that Bill has his toothbrush here. He has been brushing regularly to demonstrate how things float around in zero g.
Narrator: The broadcast was supposed to provide an unprecedented view of the entire Earth, but lens problems made that impossible.
Archival Apollo footage: This lens doesn't seem to be working. I sure wish we could show you the Earth. It's a beautiful, beautiful view, with predominantly blue background and just huge covers of white clouds. Its very, very beautiful.
Narrator: Even without the Earth views Americans were captivated as the drama of the crew's voyage began to sink in.
Archival Apollo footage: Happy Birthday Mother.
Narrator: Behind the good-natured banter was the reality that these three men were alone 100,000 miles out in space, moving farther and farther away every minute.
TV #1 CDR: So we will be signing off here, and we will be looking forward to seeing you all again shortly.
Archival Apollo footage: Goodbye from Apollo 8.
Narrator: At 2:30 in the afternoon Houston time on December 23, the third day of the mission, the crew of Apollo 8 crossed the gravitational divide. Now, instead of pulling away from the Earth, they were being pulled toward the moon.
Mission Control: Mode 1, 5 hours, roll 1.38
Apollo 8: Roger. The new attitudes for the Mode 1, 5 hour Mode 15 minute are as follows: roll 1.38, pitch 7.89, yaw 357.37
Narrator: 12 and half hours later, tension filled the air as the astronauts prepared to fire the SPS engine. If all went well, it would slow the capsule just enough to safely enter lunar orbit. The crucial maneuver would take place on the far side of the moon, out of radio contact with the Earth.
Mission Control: Two minutes fifty seconds away from time of LOS, now. Distance from the moon now 496 nautical miles.
Andrew Chaiken: The moon is moving along in its orbit at thousands of miles an hour. It's twenty-one hundred miles across. You're trying to zip ahead of the leading edge of the moon, whip around the back side, fire your engine, and go into orbit just 69 miles above the surface. You know, 69 miles out of 230,000 miles, is not, doesn't leave you a lot of room for error.
Mission Control: One minute to LOS, all systems go.
Narrator: The back up crews and nearly every flight controller gathered in the control room.
Mission Control: Current altitude away from the moon 377 nautical miles.
Narrator: At 3:59 a.m., Houston time, the spacecraft curved behind the moon.
Mission Control: Thanks a lot troops, We'll see you on the other side.
Jerry Bostick: And then we had loss of signal as they went around behind the moon. And it was rather depressing all of a sudden, it was a let down, like, well, what's going on, well, we don't know, we can't talk to them, and the first thing I heard was from Glynn Lunney, who said well "this is probably a good time for everybody to take a break." And I thought, "that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, how can we take a break when the space craft and the guys are on the dark side of the moon." And he said, "well, there's nothing much we can do to help 'em now, and we have a few minutes here, so it's a good time to take a break."
Narrator: If the burn went well, Apollo 8 would reappear in 36 minutes. If the SPS malfunctioned, the capsule could be sent hurtling into deep space, or crashing to the lunar surface.
Valerie Anders: These things seem to happen at night, always the middle of the night, Houston time...the wives had brought food over and we had tea and coffee. And we were sitting around with the squawk box waiting for this thing to occur. My children were all upstairs asleep. I knew I had the full responsibility of them. And so I did worry, but I tried to not think beyond that, because it was such a huge step for the U.S., for the world, for mankind. It really was.
Narrator: Ten minutes after losing communication with Earth, Jim Lovell fired the SPS engine. With the Command Module traveling backwards, the SPS burned for four minutes to slow the capsule into lunar orbit, roughly 70 miles above the moon's surface. In Mission Control, everyone tried to remain calm as they watched the minutes tick away.
Jerry Bostick: As they were coming around behind the moon, I had set up two clocks, count-down clocks. One, for if the burn was not successful and one, it if was. And after the time passed for no burn, then we didn't hear anything, then that's good news.
Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston. Apollo 8, Houston.
Apollo 8: Go Ahead Houston, this is Apollo 8. Burn Complete.
Mission Control: We've got it. We've got it. Apollo 8 now in lunar orbit! There is a cheer in this room...169.1 by 60.5. Good to hear your voice.
Jerry Bostick: Then, when we heard from the crew within a second of the time that we expected to for a nominal burn, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. We had been working for six or seven years to accomplish this. And there we were! We were in lunar orbit!
Narrator: The SPS had fired perfectly. It was 4 a.m. on December 24, 1968 and for the first time human eyes looked down on the far side of the moon.
Bill Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut: Everybody sort of saw it at once, and suddenly here we were, knew we were on the back of the moon. Now we could look down, first time, we saw the moon with this dramatic high contrast lunar surface.
Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 astronaut: We were like three school kids looking into a candy store window. I think we forgot the flight plan. We had our noses pressed against the glass. We were looking at those craters go by, you know. It was a really amazing sight, really amazing sight.
Narrator: Apollo 8 would orbit the moon 10 times over the next 20 hours. While the ground crew tracked the gravitational influences on their spacecraft, the astronauts were busy surveying for future landing sites.
Apollo 8: 2; 150, new; B and W; MAG D.
Mission Control: 1 - 1; 80; B & W; 1/250th.
Narrator: But then their focus changed.
Narrator: After traveling nearly a quarter million miles to explore the moon, the astronauts unexpectedly found themselves gazing back at the Earth, captivated by their own home planet.
Frank Borman, Apollo 8 astronaut: The moon was a terribly distraught landscape, it was the most awe-inspiring moment of the flight when we looked up and there, coming over the lunar horizon, was the Earth. It was the only object in the universe that had any color to it, basically blue with white clouds. And everything we held dear was back there. It was a long way away.
Apollo, archival footage: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!
Andrew Chaikin: Anders clicked off a black and white shot and then Lovell finally gave him the color role. He slapped that on the back of the Hasselblad camera and he took the picture that became probably the most famous picture of the decade if not one of the most famous of the century, of the Earth rising beyond the moon. And that is still the picture that really sums up the electrifying experience of that flight, that here were human beings who had taken a monumental step away from home. And Anders came to the realization, even during the flight, you know, "My God, we've come all this way to study the moon and its really the sight of the Earth that has had the most impact. It's almost as if we're discovering the Earth for the first time."
Walter Cronkite: That blue disk out there in space, floating alone in the darkness, the utter black of space, it reflected the brilliance of life itself on our planet and brought to mind all of the wonders of our life here and also said to us, how is it possible for humans to live on this incredible island and, and live in enmity instead of an understanding of the brotherhood of all of us there, alone together in the universe? It was a powerful moment.
Narrator: As the Apollo 8 crew looked homeward, around the world millions of people were united by the same impulse: stopping for a few moments to stare skyward at the distant moon.
Marilyn Lovell: It was Christmas Eve, I got in the car and was driving home and there was the moon. It was just absolutely beautiful. I looked at it and I thought, "Oh my Lord, they're there." And to look at the moon and say, "my husband is going around that moon at this moment."
Apollo 8: Welcome from the moon, Houston.
Mission Control: Thank you.
Apollo 8: Houston, you're seeing a view of the Earth taken below the lunar horizon. We're going to follow a track until the terminator.
Narrator: As the Command Module moved through it's 9th revolution, the largest audience in history tuned in for a special television broadcast.
Apollo 8: This is Apollo 8 coming to you live from the moon, we've had to switch the TV camera now, now were switching so that we can show you.
This area just to the left of the Sea of Pisces is called the Martian Sweep and to the left of that is the sea of tranquility.
Can you see the fracture patterns going across the middle of the mare? They drop down about three steps.
Narrator: For 20 minutes the astronauts cataloged the mountains and craters they were passing over. Then, as they approached the moon's dark side, they began to read a passage they had selected from the Bible's Book of Genesis: the creation story.
Apollo 8: For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send to 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 called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Andrew Chaikin: The thing about Apollo that sets it apart from every other event in the history of exploration is that human beings could share in the event as it was happening. We felt the awe and wonder that these three men were experiencing so far from their home planet. Look at the step we were taking and in that moment they were touching base with the most fundamental narrative we have, the creation story.
Apollo 8: And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called these Seas; and God saw that it was good.
Jerry Bostick: I've never seen this place so quiet. There was a big hush in here, and tears in a lot of eyes. It was just the perfect thing to do at the perfect time.
Apollo 8: 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.
Walter Cronkite, archival footage: Well, quite a finish for this last transmission from the moon from Apollo 8, from their television cameras there 230,000 miles from Earth, some 70 miles above the surface of the moon.
Susan Borman: Chris came by one night. I said, 'hey Chris, you know, I'd really appreciate it if you'd level with me. I really, really want to know what you think their chances are of getting home. I really want to know.' So he sat there with me and he pondered and he said, 'You really mean that, don't you?' And I said, 'Yes, and you know I do. I really want to know." And he said, 'OK, how's 50/50?' I said, "Good, that suits me fine."
Narrator: After four days in space and 19 hours orbiting the moon, the astronauts were exhausted and ready to head home. With the capsule facing forward, they would fire the SPS engine again on the moon's far side, to gain enough speed to break out of lunar orbit.
Walter Cronkite, archival footage: We're just minutes now from the most critical maneuver that Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders have yet to perform on this historic flight of Apollo 8.
Walter Cronkite, archival footage: This was it. This was the one that had to go. This had to work or we had lost the astronauts and the Apollo 8 mission.
Valerie Anders: We knew that they had to get this burn to get out of orbit, otherwise they'd still be there. So it was tense. And it was one of the more critical steps, and, and we knew the consequences.
Mission Control: All Systems are GO Apollo 8
Apollo 8: Thank you.
Narrator: Shortly before midnight, Apollo 8 curved around to the far side of the moon, losing contact with Earth for the last time.
Chris Kraft: We lost the signal exactly at the right time, when they went behind the moon, and everybody, at that point, got up and started walking around in the room and I got on my intercom and said, "Look, you guys, do what you want to do but I'm going to sit here and I want to pray a little bit and I'd like to have it quiet here because this is one hell of a tense moment for me and for those guys in the spacecraft. So, for God's sake, be quiet for me.
Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston, Apollo 8, Houston.
Susan Borman: And there was just dead silence. I mean you really could have heard a pin drop. No one was breathing. No one was moving and waiting to hear something. Because all you heard was Mission Control saying "Apollo 8". You know there was a one-way transmission. "Apollo 8, Apollo 8." Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8. Over.
Mission Control: Hello, Apollo 8. Loud and clear.
Apollo 8: Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.
Mission Control: That's affirmative. You're the best ones to know.
Susan Borman: And then Jim, bless his heart "Please be advised there is a Santa Claus." I thought, "no, it worked."
Narrator: It would take two more days in space, but the Apollo 8 astronauts were on their way home. Relaxed and confident, they began to enjoy the ride, opening a few Christmas presents, and catching up on much needed sleep.
Narrator: Around noon they re-crossed the gravitational divide and began to be pulled toward home.
Valerie Anders: I think when you go out on the edge like we did sometimes the rewards are things that you never even anticipate. This was the one time when I saw that everybody in the world seemed to admire what we had done, and it was for a peaceful purpose. It was a Cold War act, but it wasn't an aggressive act.
Andrew Chaikin: You know Apollo was an adventure that wasn't just on the scale of a nation trying to do something great, but really all of humanity trying to take a giant leap forward. The impact of seeing the Earth as a planet, as a very small, very distant, and apparently to the astronauts fragile looking ball in the blackness of space ... that is a moment that ranks up there with any in the human species.
Apollo 8: OK, now, we're coming up on the view of the Earth, we really want you to see, that's the view of the Earth.
Narrator: On December 26 the crew gave one last broadcast before reentry.
Apollo 8: As I look down on the Earth here from so far out in space, I think I must have the feeling that the travelers in the old sailing ships used to have: going on a very long voyage away from home and now we're headed back, and I have that feeling of being proud of the trip, but still - still happy to be going back home and back to our home port.
Mission Control: Roger, Bill. We'll sure be glad to get you back, too.
Apollo 8: Until then, this is the Apollo 8 crew signing off. We'll see you back on the good Earth very soon.
Walter Cronkite, archival footage: The flight of Apollo 8 is nearing its end. Ahead for astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders is the fastest and the hottest reentry that man has yet made into the Earth's atmosphere in this age of space flight.
Narrator: When Apollo 8 began their re-entry, they were traveling at 25,000 miles per hour.
Apollo 8: Oh, here we go 46 46 20, 0 5 g ...
That's the airglow we are starting to get; that's what it is gentlemen.
What? Okay, we got the ...
God damn, this is going to be a real ride. Hang on.
Bill Anders: The spacecraft started to rumble and it was the first fire coming off the heat shield and we now could detect the G forces. And pretty soon it looked like we were inside a blowtorch.
Apollo 8: .05 G switch on..
Okay, we got it!
Put the EMS ON
Call out the g's.
Narrator: In the Command Module, after a week of weightlessness, the astronauts could feel the gravitational forces building.
Apollo 8: We're 1 g!
Frank Borman: We would dig into the atmosphere until it sustained the maximum amount of G's and thermal load that the spacecraft was designed to take or was supposed to take. And then we'd start out again. Then, we'd roll over 180 degrees and start back down.
Narrator: In the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of Hawaii, the crew of the USS Yorktown prepared for the recovery.
Narrator: In the predawn darkness, it would be impossible for TV cameras to pick up the descending spacecraft but TV correspondents were there, reporting to an anxious public. In mission control, the flight team watched silently as they waited for word that the chutes had opened. In their homes nearby, the astronauts' families also waited.
Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston
Apollo 8, Houston
Apollo 8: VHF
Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston
Apollo 8: You got the call Jim. Give them a call.
Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8.
Airboss 1: Apollo 8, Airboss 1. Go ahead.
Apollo 8: Roger, Airboss 1. We indicate 8000. We can't see the chutes, but we're going down very slow.
Airboss 1: Roger, this is Airboss 1. You're sounding very good, very good. You have been reported on radar as southwest of the ship about 25 miles. Welcome home, gentlemen and we'll have you aboard in no time.
Narrator: At 4:51am local time, Apollo 8 splashed down in the dark Pacific.
Bill Anders: I can remember hanging from my straps with all the trash that had been collected on the floor, thinking, here we are, heroic lunar explorers, you know, hanging upside down in the ocean with all this dirt falling in our faces.
Frank Borman: It was wonderful. I was sick as a dog, from being sea sick, but we were lying there reflecting on the fact that everything had worked and we had done our job well. It was, it was great!
Narrator: In Houston and around the country, there was a sense of relief and celebration unlike any mission before.
Marilyn Lovell: Just to see them being taken out of the space capsule onto the ship; it was just, it was wonderful. I mean I just ... I still remember how exciting it was to see these men, knowing where they'd been and what they'd done and how the country reacted. I don't think it impacted on me until they came back. I was just so shocked that they really were heroes, so to speak and I never thought of it that way to start with, but they really were.
Narrator: Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were hailed throughout the world for their heroic feat. They were given ticker tape parades in New York, Houston and Chicago, named "men of the year" by Time magazine, and honored before a joint session of Congress. Even the Russian state newspaper published an editorial praising their "infinite human courage and daring." But for Frank Borman, the most memorable accolade came from a stranger who sent a four word telegram. "Thanks," it read, "You saved 1968."
Jim Lovell: We did it. ... We overcame the obstacles, we overcame the fire, the problems with the Lunar Module, the problems with the Saturn 5 that we had, and we did get people around the moon before the Soviets. We knew this was the beginning a grand new adventure.
Andrew Chaikin: It was a moment at which people put aside the trauma of that year and their own day-to-day concerns and were just taken out of themselves as only this kind of an enterprise can do, to let you see beyond yourself. That was the real legacy of Apollo, and the real impact of Apollo 8 was that we had a perspective that was a mountain top experience for the whole human race.
Apollo 8: 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.