Launch of Apollo 8 

US #1371 pictures the famed Earthrise photo captured on this mission.  Click picture to buy.

On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 launched from Kennedy Space Center.

This mission was the second manned spaceflight mission in the Apollo program, and the first to leave low Earth orbit, travel around the moon and safely return to Earth.  It was also the first human spaceflight launched from Kennedy Space Center.

The mission was originally planned for early 1969 but was moved up to December 1968 because the more ambitious lunar orbiter that was supposed to launch first wouldn’t be ready in time.  As a result, the crew had two to three months less training than they had expected.  The astronauts that would go on the mission were Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William Anders.

On the night before their launch, the crew had a special visitor – Charles Lindbergh, who’d famously flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean 41 years earlier.  Lindbergh had asked how much fuel the rocket needed to get into space and was told 20 tons per second.  He then smiled and said to the astronauts, “In the first second of your flight tomorrow, you’ll burn 10 times more fuel than I did all the way to Paris.”

US #1710 was issued for the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh’s historic flight.  Click picture to buy.

The following day at 12:51 pm, the crew became the first to launch into space aboard the Saturn V rocket.  Once in earth’s orbit, they performed the necessary checks and then received the “go” from NASA to head toward the moon. Getting the craft into lunar orbit was difficult, but the crew was able to do it on schedule.

US #1371 – Classic First Day Cover.  Click picture to buy.

Shortly after entering the moon’s orbit on Christmas Eve, the crew shared what they saw with the world through a public broadcast. One astronaut called the moon a “vast, lonely, forbidding type of existence,” while another mentioned Earth’s “grand ovation to the vastness of space.”  After that, they took turns reading passages from the Bible.  That television broadcast was the most watched TV event up to that time.

Mongolia #554-60 includes a stamp honoring Apollo 8.  Click picture to buy.

Shortly after the readings, the crew happened to see the Earth rising above the moon.  No one had thought to take photographs of the Earth part of the mission.  However, the crew recognized the importance of preserving this sight for all mankind and snapped the amazing photograph that appears on the stamp above.

Beginning their return trip after emerging from the far side of the moon, one of the astronauts called out on Christmas morning, “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.”  The Apollo 8 returned home safely on December 27.

Mongolia #C46-53 also includes an Apollo 8 stamp.  Click picture to buy.

The success of Apollo 8 was a major stepping-stone in the Apollo program.  Apollo 10 would bring a lunar lander close to the moon’s surface to simulate a landing, and Apollo 11 would land the first men on the moon.  Today, the Apollo 8 spacecraft is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Click here for more info and images about the Apollo 8 mission.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Another excellent article. Growing up at that time I remember many of us wanting to be astronauts.
    It’s also a sad reminder that 50 years ago we acknowledged God in everything and now people don’t even want to acknowledge Jesus Christ at CHRISTmas.
    Merry Christmas to all!

  2. Never take history for granted! Reading about Charles Lindbergh’s first flight to Paris is what it must be like for young people to read about this trip to the moon but I was there and remember it well. I was not at that first Christmas but I remember it well and dread the day when our children will no longer read about that exciting event. We should never take history for granted.

  3. Dear Dave Thank you for putting into words the same thing I was thinking as I read this article . May you and yours and all the world have a blessed Christmas and remember that Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise men still seek Him!

  4. The Apollo 8 stamp is one of my favorites. The beautiful blue earth rising above the barren surface of the moon should be a reminder to us all to take care of the earth, as it is the only home we have.

  5. It’s a sad commentary that God and Jesus Christ have taken a back seat to materialism and political correctness. It’s amazing the postal service got away with putting the word “GOD” on a stamp.

  6. The Apollo stamp says it all. In the beginning, God… It’s also one of my favorites of what I’ve collected so far. Thanks again for the history recount, I really enjoy it daily!

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