Apollo 8, the second manned mission in the United States Apollo space program, was launched on December 21, 1968 and became the first manned space craft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth’s Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, and then the first to directly see the far side of the Moon. The 1968 mission, the third flight of the Saturn V rocket and the first manned launch of the Saturn V, was also the first manned launch from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral.
Apollo 8 came at the end of 1968, a year that had seen much upheaval in the United States and most of the world. Even though the year saw political assassinations, political unrest in the streets of Europe and America, and the Prague Spring, TIME magazine chose the crew of Apollo 8 as their Men of the Year for 1968, recognizing them as the people who most influenced events in the preceding year. They had been the first people ever to leave the gravitational influence of the Earth and orbit another celestial body. They had survived a mission that even the crew themselves had rated as only having a fifty-fifty chance of fully succeeding. The effect of Apollo 8 can be summed up by a telegram from a stranger, received by Borman after the mission, that simply stated, “Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”
One of the most famous aspects of the flight was the Earthrise picture that was taken as they came around for their fourth orbit of the Moon. This was the first time that humans had taken such a picture whilst actually behind the camera, and it has been credited with a role in inspiring the first Earth Day in 1970. It was selected as the first of Life magazine’s ‘hundred photos that changed the world’. Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins said, “Eight’s momentous historic significance was foremost;” while many space historians, such as Robert K Poole, see Apollo 8 as the most historically significant of all the Apollo missions.
The mission was the most widely covered by the media since the first American orbital flight, Mercury-Atlas 6 by John Glenn in 1962. There were 1200 journalists covering the mission, with the BBC coverage being broadcast in 54 countries in 15 different languages. The Soviet newspaper Pravda featured a quote from Boris Nikolaevich Petrov, Chairman of the Soviet Intercosmos program, who described the flight as an “outstanding achievement of American space sciences and technology”. It is estimated that a quarter of the people alive at the time saw—either live or delayed—the Christmas Eve transmission during the ninth orbit of the Moon. The Apollo 8 broadcasts won an Emmy Award, the highest honor given by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.