On December 21, 1968, 40 minutes after leaving Earth’s orbit, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders fell silent. Looking back at the just-separated third stage of their Saturn V rocket, they’d caught sight of something else.
They had just become the first humans to view their entire planet in one glance. Even today, only 24 people in the entire history of humanity have witnessed that. All saw it between December 1968 and December 1972, the date of the last Apollo mission.
Popular history has relegated Apollo 8’s mission as a footnote, a dress rehearsal for the Big One. Seven months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would walk on the moon, fulfilling President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 pledge to accomplish that goal by the end of the decade. But Apollo 8 blazed the trail, proving dramatically that humans not only could leave Earth’s orbit, they could fly to the moon, orbit it 10 times, and make it back home safely.
Even Armstrong would write, 30 years later in National Geographic, “Apollo 8 was the spirit of Apollo—leaving the shackles of Earth and being able to return.”
Apollo 8 also meant something bigger. From lunar orbit on December 24, the astronauts encountered a surprise that would change the way humanity looked at itself and its Maker.
A Grand Oasis
Christmas Eve morning, the Apollo 8 Command Module was entering its fourth orbit of the moon. As Flight Commander Borman executed a routine roll, Anders looked out his window and exclaimed, “Oh, my God.”
Hanging in the blackness of space like a bright blue ball was Earth, rising in the sky above the lunar landscape.
Anders’ entire statement at that moment ...
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