Full Orbit: Apollo 8

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A view of the 363-foot high Saturn V launch vehicle that carried Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders into space. The launch vehicle moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad A, Complex 39. Apollo 8, launched in December 1968, and was the first manned Saturn V flight. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

On December 21, 1968, the United States’ Apollo 8 mission was launched and made a six-day trip to orbit the Moon, circling it a total of ten times. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the first to take deep space pictures of Earth. Watching as Earth rose over the Moon, all three astronauts began snapping photographs, causing some dispute over who actually produced what became one of the most iconic images in American history. The public was able to experience the Apollo 8 mission with the crew via live television coverage, and on Christmas Eve the crew’s legendary Genesis reading was broadcast over radio transmission to everyone listening back home. 

Apollo 8 achieved many firsts, including the first manned mission in the Saturn V spacecraft, sending men around the Moon and returning them safely to Earth. NASA took a risk sending the astronauts to orbit the Moon, knowing that transmission would be lost once the spacecraft was directly behind it. Without direction from the NASA command center, the crew successfully burned the engines at the exact position needed to curve the spacecraft around the Moon’s back and return home. The United States was getting closer to conquering the Moon.