1962, The United States is lagging behind in the Space Race, with USSR putting the first man and satellite in space. The President of US, John F. Kennedy, in a historic speech stated to the public, that he aims on landing a man on the Moon, by the end of the decade. The speech caught everyone off guard, including NASA.
By then, NASA had just begun the Mercury program, the first manned spaceflight programme of the US. Aiming to achieve Kennedy’s promise, NASA launched the Gemini Program, followed by the Apollo Program, the program which took men to the Moon.
In 1967, NASA hit a major bump, when the astronauts of Apollo 1, the first manned flight of the Apollo Program, Roger Chaffee, Ed White and Gus Grissom were killed, during a routine test on the Launch Pad due to a fire in the Command Module. This incident dampened the spirits of NASA.
After a year of hard work, solving the problem of the Command Module, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo Spaceflght, flew in October 1968 in Low Earth Orbit (LOE).
NASA now turned their heads to the main goal, The Moon. Although getting to the Moon was relatively easier, landing on the Moon was the challenge. In 1962, NASA had given the contract to Grumman Aircraft to design and manufacture the lander which they called the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). After Apollo 7, NASA had planned for Apollo 8 to test the LEM in LOE. But, the LEM wasn’t built yet. By the time Apollo 7 was completed, NASA made the decision of sending Apollo 8 to the Moon without the LEM. This was done in order to get a step closer to their dream of landing on the Moon. Apollo 9 would test out the LEM in LOE.
And so it became that Apollo 8 would be the first manned spaceflight to go to, and orbit, the Moon. Without the LEM, Apollo 8 would have to rely on the Command and Service Module (CSM), as the only source of thrust and resources, this far away from home.
December 21st, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted off, carrying astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders. After a successful launch into LOE, Apollo 8 began the Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI), in order to escape Earth’s Orbit and orbit the Moon. In the 3 days that it took to get from the Earth to the Moon, the astronauts became the first to sail into uncharted territory. The crew of Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 1968. The first humans to reach the Moon, the farthest humans have ever been from Earth.
As the crew came about on the other side of the Moon, they witnessed the beautiful Earthrise above the horizon of the Moon. The crew celebrated Christmas of 1968, around the Moon! They received wishes from the Earth.
After spending 10 orbits around the Moon, they prepared for their burn to escape the Moon’s orbit and re-entry into Earth. Due to a lack of a secondary engine, and also the fact that the CSM Engine was exposed to the cold of Space for 4 days, there was a fear that the astronauts would not be able to escape Moon’s orbit.
But the engine did light up and they returned to Earth safely, as heroes, as explorers and with many firsts. Apollo 8 was a great leap towards the ultimate landing of man on the Moon.
7 months later, on July 21st 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon.