When most people today think of the Apollo Moon program they instantly think of Neil Armstrong taking that giant leap for mankind as he stepped on the Moon, however I think my favorite of the Apollo missions was Apollo 8. Today marks the 45th anniversary of that historic flight around the moon. Although they did not land, Apollo 8 was the first to reach the moon, orbit her, and return home.
It is my favorite of the moon missions simply because of how it gave hope in a dark time.
Frank Borman was selected for the Apollo mission in 1966. First slated to ride in Apollo 3, but that all changed when “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died tragically in the Apollo 1 Command Module fire which happened in January of 1967. Frank was chosen as the only astronaut to serve on the accident review board. When it became obvious members of congress were using the accident as an excuse to shut the program down for political reasons, Frank admitted that the trip was dangerous by saying, “There’s no question that it [the Command Module] was a coffin, and I’d have flown it gladly.” When asked his opinion about what they should do he told them out right to drop the witch hunt and “let’s go to the moon”.1968 had been a particularly bad year historically. It saw the highest in Vietnam conflict casualties. In March, an equal rights march in Memphis turned violent and escalated racial division with the death of a black teen. A week later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at a motel in Memphis. In June, 42 year old Robert Kennedy had just started his presidential campaign when he was shot and killed while leaving the California Primary. Then in August demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention turned into two days of rioting and violence in Chicago. In November, after Nixon won the election, rallies and protests swept college campuses as young men refused draft cards. But then on December 21st Apollo 8 was launched on her historic journey to the moon. When Christmas Eve rolled around, the Apollo 8 command module was rolling in it’s orbit of the moon, broadcasting for the world to hear.
While families sat around their living rooms anxiously listening to their radios and watching Walter Cronkite’s play by play on their televisions, and while Christmas lights twinkled on trees all across American living rooms, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders’ voices broke through loud and clear as if falling from the very stars which twinkled outside those living room windows.“We are now approaching the Lunar sunrise and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…”
The astronauts took turns reading from Genesis chapter one until it was completed. Frank then took the microphone and said, “And, from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you… all of you on the good Earth.”
Apollo 8 circled the moon 10 times before heading home with many photographs and a ray of light which seemed to be missing all year long. A light of faith. A light of meekness knowing that no matter how great man’s accomplishments might be, God is still the creator of all things good. A light of hope that no matter how bad we mess up here on this Earth, there is a heavenly Father in charge and He loves it so much He gave His only son so we should not perish. If only we could see the Earth’s goodness from Frank Borman’s view in the command module instead of just seeing all the depressing things surrounding us, we might be able get a small glimpse of things from God’s view. Maybe then 1968 or any other year wouldn’t seem so bad.
On their trip home, another astronaut Michael Collins read congratulatory telegrams to the crew over the radio. First there was one from Charles Lindbergh, then one from Lyndon Baines Johnson, but the most meaningful one came last. Collins said, “You got one from a Mrs. Valerie Pringle. I’m sure that’s not a name that any of you recognize. It’s just a telegram that one of the public affairs officials at NASA picked up because he liked it. Mrs. Pringle writes, very simply, ‘You saved 1968.'”
As I think of Apollo 8 forty-five years later, I think about what those astronauts saw when they first looked out at the Earthrise on the lunar horizon. Knowing how bad the year had been. Knowing they had just tragically lost three dear friends the year before. Yet in the vastness of space, the presence of God seemed apparent and everything suddenly seemed “good”. Sometimes we have to try and see with bigger eyes than we do. No matter how bad your year might have been, remember the Earth is still rising like a huge, beautiful, blue marble over the lunar surface… and it is still good.
So Merry Christmas and God bless all of you… all of you on the good Earth.