It is December 21, 1968, 7:50, Cape Kennedy, Florida. The Apollo 8 crew – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – is strapped into their sofas 110 cm above the floor of the first manned Saturn 5 rocket – the most powerful machine ever built. While the last few seconds are just before the start, there is little to say and little else they can do. They ignite around four million liters of fuel. They are, as the watching BBC TV commentator helpfully said, "sitting on the equivalent of a giant bomb."
There is cause for concern. During the previous unmanned test of the Saturn 5 a few months ago, heavy vibration and G-forces were likely to kill everyone aboard shortly after takeoff. Although the rocket has since been modified, Borman's wife was discreetly warned by NASA that her husband has about a 50/50 chance of surviving the mission.
The performance of the Saturn 5 rocket is not the only thing that worries Nasa management. Apollo 8 is a mission of the first ̵
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"It was a very, very courageous decision," says Teasel Muir-Harmony, Apollo curator at the National Aerospace Museum in Washington DC. "Everyone in the agency knew this was an extraordinarily risky mission, and there was a lot of criticism, especially from the British astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell, that the United States endangered people's lives."
In fact, Apollo 8 was never going to be that ambitious. Originally it was planned as the first test of the Apollo Lander in Earth orbit, but the production of the lander was late. In addition, the CIA warned that intelligence agencies pointed out that the Soviets were about to try their own manned flight around the moon (you can read how close they really were.)
) "Everyone forgets that Apollo program was not a journey After exploration or scientific discovery, this was a Cold War battle, "says Borman," and we were Cold War warriors.
Despite the concerns of his bosses and after only four months of intense training, Borman arrived at the place. The former military fighter pilot said he had never doubted that the mission would be successful.
"We had to change the mission to do the moon landing before the end of the decade, as President Kennedy promised," says Borman. "In my opinion, the mission was not only important to the US, but to free people everywhere."
With glowing engines and countdown at zero, the Saturn 5 slowly lifts off the surface and accelerates into the clear blue Florida skies , "I felt like we were on a needle point," says Borman. "The sound gave the impression of tremendous power – I felt I was on the ride instead of controlling anything."
We looked down and there was the moon – Frank Borman
"It's going to be very difficult to breathe, almost impossible to move, and your eyes will be flat so you can see the tunnel," he recalls "It's an unusual feeling."
About eight minutes later, they are in orbit, and after one and a half orbits, they launch the rocket's third engine engine and blow up from Earth to the Moon, then two days and 402,000 kilometers later At 8:55 GMT on Christmas Eve, Borman performs the decisive engine fire on the Apollo service module, which will bring the spacecraft into orbit around the moon.
"I think we shot. The locomotive takes about four minutes to slow enough to get into orbit, "Borman remembers," I've gone through about three-quarters of the way and we looked down and there was the moon. "
The crew was the first man h, who saw the other side of the moon with his own eyes. "I do not think that everything I studied prepared me for the really restless nature of the lunar surface – it was completely unimaginable," says Borman. "It was terribly troubled with holes, craters and volcanic remains, so it was a very interesting first look at another world."
And not only the view of the moon surprises her. About 75 hours and 48 minutes after the mission, Anders discovers the blue marble of the earth rising above the moon's horizon and searches for color films to capture the moment.
"The contrast between the disturbed moon and the beautiful blue earth was remarkable. Earth was the only thing in the universe that had a color, "says Borman. "You could see the white clouds, the brownish-pink continents … we're lucky enough to live on this planet."
A mission considered as a risky test of human technological ingenuity and the bravery of astronauts turns into an unexpectedly emotional experience for those involved. The Earthrise image was only released after Apollo 8 had returned to Earth, but at Christmas 1968 the crew had another gift for the planet.
"Before the flight, Nasa's public affairs officer Borman said she expected one billion people – a quarter of the world's population – to receive her moonbirth Christmas party," says Muir-Harmony. "More people would listen to their program than any other human voice in history, and it was simply told to say something appropriate."
We three and our wives tried to find out – we could not – Frank Borman  "This is one of the most remarkable moments of a free country," says Borman. "Can you imagine if the Soviets had been up there, then we'll talk about Lenin and Stalin, and we just said we should do something appropriate."
But it was far from easy to find "something suitable". "We three and our women have been trying to figure that out," says Borman. "We could not."
He turned to a friend of his who in turn asked veteran war correspondent Joe Layton. "As I understand it, he sat up all night, throwing away crumpled paper as his wife passed by, and his wife was a former French resistance fighter, suggesting you should not start at the beginning."
With rolling television cameras and as the spaceship approached the sunrise of the moon on Christmas Eve (US time), the crew begins to read from the Book of Genesis. "In the beginning …" begins Anders. Borman concluded the broadcast with "Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless you all on the good earth."
"We were pretty sure it was best because that's At least a sense of awe from me, that the universe is bigger than all of us, "says Borman. "It is too ordered and too big to have no divine creation."
But the mission is far from over. On Christmas day, Borman fires the engine again to leave the lunar orbit. "The burn-in of the Earth orbit was carried out on the other side of the moon without touching the ground. If it had failed, I would still orbit the moon. "
" Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus! "Lovell exclaims as they reestablish contact with the ground. And Santa has even delivered. In a purpose-designed fireproof festive band, the crew wrapped their gift of mission control: a turkey dinner with gravy.
[Our boss] Deke Slayton had also smuggled three liquor fires aboard, but we did not drink that, "says Borman. "I did not want anything wrong, so we brought it home."
It expanded the boundaries of human experience, influencing the way we value the Earth and our place in the universe – Teasel Muir Harmony
"I do not know what happened to me," he adds. "It's probably worth a lot of money now."
On December 27, the crew returns to Earth and splashes so close to their target in the Pacific that the salvage ship had to dodge. It was the perfect end to a perfect mission, the last proof that gambling on the moon pays off.
"Not only was Apollo 8 a great scientific and technical achievement," says Muir-Harmony, "but the breadth of human experience has influenced the way we treasured the Earth and our place in the universe."  For Colonel Borman, who was still an impressive Cold War warrior at the age of ninety, his last mission was to make America a success step closer to the moon.
"I'll be honest with you, me Do not really think about the legacy of Apollo 8, "he says." Honestly, after Apollo 11 was successful [in landing men on the Moon]I no longer had any interest in the program – I participated in a Cold War fight and we won. "
To hear more about Frank Borman, Apollo 8, and astronauts talking about Genesis and their own religious experiences, listen to Richard's Radio 3 program broadcast on December 22 : Message from the Moon
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