December 6, 2022 3:02 am
On this episode of Our American Stories, the crew of Apollo 8 and Steve Kates tell the story of their Christmas time mission to the moon--and the reading of Genesis over its surface.
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There's magic when we eat together. And we return to our American stories. When Apollo 8 took off from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in 1968, the Vietnam War was in full swing. And earlier that year in April, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. This all wasn't lost on Apollo 8's three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, as they took off on their grand journey around the moon. Here to tell the story of what happened with that in mind is Steve Kates.
Take it away Steve. Apollo 8, NASA made a decision that they would send three astronauts on a journey around the moon for 10 lunar orbits in 1968 around Christmas time. There was a lot of objections in some of the higher, you know, offices of NASA that this might not have been the right thing to do because we only tested Apollo 7 in Earth orbit and yet we haven't sent a Apollo spacecraft to the moon yet.
So Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders did that most incredible feat. Here's Jim Lovell, astronaut on Apollo 8 with more. Well my first sensation of course was not too far from the Earth because when we turned around we could actually see the Earth start to shrink. Now the highest anybody had ever been I think had been either I think it was Apollo or Gemini 11 up about 800 miles or something like that and back down again and all of a sudden you know we're just just going down and it was it reminds me of driving a car looking out the back window going inside a tunnel and seeing the tunnel entrance shrink as it gets as you go farther into the tunnel. It was a quite a quite a sensation to think about you know and you had to pinch yourself hey we're really going to the moon.
I mean you know this is it. I was a navigator and it turned out that the navigation equipment was perfect. I mean it was just you couldn't ask for a better piece of navigation equipment. Coming into the moon itself the last day our blunt end was towards the moon and we didn't see it as it got bigger but the ground called up and the mission control said now at such and such a time and they named it right down to the second you lose communication with us because the moon's gravity will swing around to the far side right to the second there was static in our earphones no comp. Then of course we we lit the engine to slow down and we got into lunar orbit and this is where we started to look at the moon you know and we all those nice things we said. That Christmas message when we determined first of all that we would get and burn into the lunar orbit on Christmas Eve we thought boy we something's got to be appropriate to say we ought to say something what can we say and we couldn't think of anything. Then there was a fellow that I think Borman knew his name was Cybergene. Well it's another example of the wonderful country we live in because Julian Cheer who was the head of public information for NASA in Washington called me one day and so you're going to have the largest audience that's ever listened to or seen a television picture of a human on Christmas Eve and you've got I don't know five or six minutes and I said well that's great Julian what do we do and he said do whatever is appropriate that's the only instructions but then that's the exact word do whatever is appropriate whatever you feel is appropriate and be honest with you we were so involved in the mission and this was a peripheral one so I just kind of farmed that out to a friend of mine Cy Borgen and from Washington.
He was with the U.S. Information Agency I think had gone with them some of the astronauts around their trips. Frank asked him could he come up with something appropriate well he could but he knew another person I think it was a newspaper man I forget his name that he said okay I'll think it over I'll try to see what I can do and he was working almost all night trying to think of appropriate words and his wife came down and said why don't you have them read something from the bible and they said well that's you know the the new testament now she says the old testament reading from genesis because you know this would be very appropriate and I discussed it with Bill and Jim and and we had it typed on the flight plan and that's I didn't give any more thought than that. So that's how it came to pass they said the first 10 verses of genesis which is really the foundation of many of the world's religions that's how it got started. We are now approaching 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. 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 and God divided the light from the darkness and God called the light day and the darkness he called night and the evening and the morning were the first day and God said let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters let it divide the waters from the waters and God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament the waters which were above the firmament and it was so and God called the broom in heaven and the evening and the morning was the second day. God said let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear and it was so and God called the dry land earth and the gathering together of the waters called these seas God saw that it was good and from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth. Looking back at the earth on Christmas Eve had a great effect I think on all three of us I can only speak for myself but it had for me because the the wonderment of it and the fact that the earth looks so lonely in the universe it's the only thing with color all of our emotions were focused back there with our families and so on so that was the most emotional part of the flight for me. We were so curious so excited about being at the moon that we were like three school kids looking into a candy store window watching those ancient old craters go by from and we're only 60 miles above the surface we didn't have any kind of feeling at least to myself of you know fear or if you know are we going to get back or not it was just just to be there was such an exciting moment that you know would have done it all the time I felt very very honored and lucky to be there. There was a little bit of concern as to how that would be you know received in the world but NASA gave them the permission to do that I mean it wasn't something that was really that controversial but in many circles they they thought that hey this is inappropriate thing to do is we celebrate the birth of the Christ child Christmas and read from the book of Genesis and talk about the creation according to the Bible of how the universe was formed and God and his wonderful ways of how we manifest beauty and love to all the people of the world and probably to all people in the other civilizations outside of this world. At the time we didn't know what the effect of the flight would be we didn't know whether the flight was going to be successful or not but you know with riots and assassinations and the war going on I was part of a thing that finally gave an uplift to the American people about doing something positive which was really that's why I say Apollo 8 was really the high point of my space career. Their neutrality in politics was always number one but reading from the Bible was just in their opinion and I approve of it I think it was a beautiful thing because at that time there's a way to send a message about peace and love and why not do that during a time when everybody needed calming. It was probably one of the most watched shows ever in the history of television and I don't know the exact number of people that were watching but it's in the hundreds of millions and it was so well done and I thought that the reading of the Bible and the book of Genesis was a apropos for the time when tensions were very high in America.
And a terrific job on the editing and production and storytelling by Monty Montgomery. A special thanks to Steve Kates and also a special thanks to NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project for some of the audio in this piece and NASA itself. The astronauts knew they needed to say something appropriate on Christmas Eve with the largest television viewing audience perhaps in history.
They were told do something appropriate and my goodness did they. The story of the reading of Genesis the story of Americans in orbit around the moon and God's creation here on Our American Story. Hey there's a better way to fly. Instead of being stuck in endless lines and packed onto planes, try simplifying your travel with Surf Air. Save an average of two hours on every trip and avoid crowded airports with a new way to fly private. With Surf Air you'll fly from smaller airports closer to your home. There are no lines, no waiting and no stress. Surfair.com the best alternative to commercial air travel that makes flying easy. Get a free quote on your next flight at SurfAir.com.
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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-06 04:29:45 / 2022-12-06 04:35:00 / 5