(LISTEN) On This Day: Apollo 8 Broadcasts Biblical Christmas Message Heard By 1 Billion People

On Christmas Eve in 1968, three astronauts aboard the historic Apollo 8 manned mission to the moon captivated the world by reading the opening verses of the Bible.

The message was heard by an estimated 1 billion people on Earth.

The Apollo 8 mission, which set forth into space on December 21, 1968, was critical in leading to an actual lunar landing just shy of seven months later.

The three astronauts onboard – Air Force Col. Frank Borman, the mission commander; Navy Capt. James A. Lovell Jr., the command module pilot; and Air Force Major William A. Anders – were on a mission designed to come within about 70 miles of the moon, orbit it several times, and return home safely.

They brought with them a television camera with which to capture their feats. Feats which included:

  • Being the first humans – American or Russian – to leave Earth’s gravitational field.
  • The first humans to see the dark side of the moon.
  • The first to enter lunar orbit.

They were also the first to see planet Earth in its entirety from its celestial counterpart, captured in Anders’ “Earthrise” photo.

#Apollo8 astronaut Bill Anders took the “Earthrise” photo 50 years ago #OnThisDay. Learn more in #ChasingTheMoonPBS from @AmExperiencePBS, coming summer 2019. https://t.co/S1L1QbCbGH pic.twitter.com/vqNzwdHfu3

— PBS (@PBS) December 24, 2018


1968 Was a Tumultuous Time – Apollo 8’s Christmas Message Helped Heal

The Apollo 8 Christmas message was one that helped heal America in a rather difficult year.

Anti-war protests had swept the nation as caskets upon caskets of war casualties were returning home from Vietnam.

In March, President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on national television to announce that he was scaling down bombing efforts and would not seek reelection due to “division in the American house.”

Civil rights icon Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th.

Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy, a charismatic presidential candidate, was also assassinated.

The History channel writes that “race riots had broken out in cities across the country” and “yet citizens of all stripes united in support of Apollo 8.”

The mission’s Christmas message “which aired on Christmas Eve from about 9:30 to 10 p.m. EST, right in prime time,” brought together “an audience of about a billion” people.”

There was unity the likes of which had not been seen in quite some time.

It was #Christmas Eve in 1968 and millions were watching as Apollo 8 carried the first humans to orbit another world. The crew broadcasted live pics of Earth & moon as seen from their spacecraft. Relive this moment: https://t.co/IKZsTAUzoO pic.twitter.com/I6X7pxY7su

— NASA (@NASA) December 24, 2018


The Christmas Message

What took place just miles from the surface of the moon on December 24th, 1968, likely would never be aired in today’s anti-Christmas, anti-religion environment.

“We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice,” Borman recalled during the mission’s 40th-anniversary celebration in 2008.

“The only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”

So, each of the astronauts took turns reading a passage from the Book of Genesis.

Seasons Greetings to “all of you on the good Earth”

50 years ago today in 1968, the first crewed mission to the moon, Apollo 8, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. Celebrate the #Apollo50 anniversary with us: https://t.co/cCM8VkDw6G pic.twitter.com/1X0D1JD6VU

— NASA (@NASA) December 24, 2018


“Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on this good Earth,” Borman signed off after the reading.


Just after midnight on Christmas morning, the crew left lunar orbit and began the journey back home to Earth.

“Please be informed there is a Santa Claus,” Borman told an anxious mission control after the successful burn to send the crew back toward their beloved planet.

Read more at the Political Insider

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