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  The Space Race | Apollo 8's Accomplishments | Apollo 8's Risks
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Apollo 8's Risks

'The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.' - astronaut Gus Grissom; 'One danger... is radiation from solar flares.' - The Washington Post; 'If things go wrong... they will burn to death...' - The Australian Apollo 8's technical achievements included the first launch of men on board a Saturn 5 rocket; the first manned mission to break Earth orbit; and the first manned reentry at 35,000 feet per second. Newspapers heralded the capsule's reentry and the astronauts' feat in light of the dangers involved in such a complex mission.

Apollo 8 reentry photograph The New York Times, January 29, 1967

Colonel [Virgil "Gus"] Grissom was asked recently in an interview whether the law of averages, so far as the possibility of a catastrophic failure, bothered him. He replied, "No, you sort of have to put that out of your mind." Another time he said, "The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

The Washington Post, December 22, 1968

Radiation From Sun is Danger

The Apollo astronauts are now passing through great seas of radiation in far space, with dangers man has never before faced.

Space, we have learned only in the last ten years, is not empty. It is alive with magnetic forces, with clouds of electronically charged gas and with steady winds and sometimes great storms of charged atomic particles.

One danger to astronauts present and future is radiation from solar flares -- great blazes of energy on the sun, often spewing particle storms throughout space.

There is no question but that such storms could be fatal to astronauts on long space missions, missions taking weeks or months. There is no question but that they will be a serious concern on future Apollo missions, when astronauts leave the fairly protective main spacecraft in which they are now traveling.

The Sydney Morning Herald, December 26, 1968

Relief As Apollo Heads for Home

...The world breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when the spacecraft's main rocket engine reignited to blast the astronauts out of their lunar orbit to begin their journey home.

The reignition was crucial. Had there been a malfunction, the three men, Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell, would have been stranded in space to die when their oxygen ran out...

The Australian, December 28, 1968

Blazing Return From the Moon
Astronauts plunge towards earth in 4700 degree fireball

If things go wrong -- if they miss that space corridor by one degree either way -- they will burn to death as the capsule plunges too steeply into the earth's atmosphere, or they will suffocate in space as the capsule bounces back into it.

The Washington Post, December 26, 1968

Apollo: 260 Times Deeper Into Space

The last perils the Apollo 8 astronauts face are the hazards of re-entry into the earth's atmosphere at the fastest speed man has ever traveled.

Moving 24,630 miles an hour when it hits the earth's atmosphere... the Apollo spacecraft will be carrying the crew more than 7000 miles-an-hour faster than any other space crew has ever experienced on reentry.

If reentry is too steep, the spacecraft would decelerate too suddenly, and the force on Apollo would be more than 20 times the force of gravity, meaning the crew would be pressed by more than 20 times its own weight.

Friction with the atmosphere at too steep a reentry would also head the spacecraft beyond its design limits of 6000 degrees.

Just as bad a fate would befall the spacecraft if it struck the atmosphere at too shallow an angle.

Like a flat stone skipping across water, it would bounce off the atmosphere and soar into a huge elliptical orbit around the earth.

The Washington Post, December 21, 1968

There are still more perils on the long journey.

Many are new, related to distance. This will be the first flight in which troubled astronauts cannot return to earth in less than three hours. The Gemini 6 astronauts, in March 1966, did just that when their small maneuvering rockets went out of control.

An emergency trip home from the moon would take nearly three painful days.

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