Apollo 8: Fifty years ago


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Fifty years ago the Apollo 8 mission successfully began with a 6:51 am launch at what was then called Cape Kennedy. It would be a space mission that would not only make history, being the first to take humans to another world, it would change America and western culture in ways no one at that time imagined.

I don’t have much to add. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words on this mission already. If you want to know more, you can read or listen to Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8.

What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.

In 1998, when I wrote Genesis, the mission had been largely forgotten, even though I knew and remembered how important it had been. When the book came out that year, during its thirtieth anniversary, I was pretty much the only one writing about it, expressing my strong desire to change this lack of recognition, to make people remember.

Today, none of the many articles about Apollo 8 make mention of my work. This is right and fitting. I wasn’t an astronaut on board. Nor did I build the rocket or capsule. I was merely a historian telling the story. However, if my poor effort has served to make others remember, and report the story correctly in 2018, its fiftieth anniversary, I can sleep peacefully when my time comes.

There will never be another first mission by humans to another world. We should remember that first journey, and honor it. I am glad we finally are doing so.

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16 comments

  • Phill O

    Genesis was a great read!

    Not to be picky, but second paragraph here should read words not worlds? You may have been thinking about a journey to another world.

  • Phill 0: Typo fixed. Thank you.

  • Tim Kyger

    Genesis was, indeed, a great read. I heard you on late night radio when the book came out. I was driving from Fort Worth to D.C. and was halfway between Royal Oak and D.C. when you were on. It made the miles go very fast.

    You are, of course, utterly correct to nine decimals about the importance of Apollo 8. There’s not much more to say.

  • TommyK

    Robert, Genesis was a great read. I read it a few months back and relived the exciting story I was originally fascinated with as a teenager growing up in a small town in northern California. My familiy and friends were glued to every event of that December 1968 adventure.

  • Andrew Howard

    I had the honor of meeting Astronaut Bill Anders. Fantastic! Patriot pioneer!

  • wayne

    Genesis is a good read!

    I had the distinct thrill of watching Apollo 8 launch in 1968. The most impressive thing, I’ve ever seen in my life. Then on Christmas Eve, we were in Key West watching the broadcast on a tiny portable b&w TV set, in our camper.

    CBS News Coverage of Apollo 8
    (Part 37)
    -Christmas Eve Reading Of Genesis-
    https://youtu.be/1aIf0G2PtHo
    (10:18)

  • wayne

    Pink Floyd
    The unburied voices of “Dark Side of the Moon”
    https://youtu.be/CJvSzJphgT8
    1:57

  • Jwing

    The first humans to leave earth’s gravity, go to and around to the moon’s far side and back home.
    Why more people don’t know their names with this accomplishment emphasizes how fiercy existential was the Cold War.

  • wayne

    just for fun….

    Outer Space Signs in American Sign Language
    The Goddard School-Harrisburg
    https://youtu.be/-vGtk3nGVX0
    2:57

  • gbear

    Seems like yesterday.

  • Somehow Apollo 8 made more of an impression on me than Apollo 11 did, as a 9 year old-10 year old at the time. I watched both events on tv with my father but I remember 8 much more vividly for some reason.

  • Richard M

    Makes you wonder: Would Apollo 8 be better remembered today if we had kept going to the Moon?

  • Joe

    I must echo every one else here, Genesis is a great read, it put everything into perspective, I enjoyed it very much, your work is very accurate.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Great achievement. I remember it well as I completed my Silver badge in gliders the day Apollo 8 returned from the Moon.
    Only one slight doubt – the Earthrise picture may have begun the inward turning to focus on Earth instead of the outward urge that had prevailed previously.

  • Phill O

    Astronomy picture of the day

    Earth rise.

    https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap181223.html

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