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Key Facts & Information

  • Apollo 8 is known as the first spacecraft launched to low Earth orbit with a crew. This spacecraft was also the first one to reach the Moon, orbit it, and then return to Earth.
  • The crew of Apollo 8 was composed of Frank Borman II, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders who are all considered as the first humans to reach the Moon. They were the first ones to witness and have a picture of the Earthrise, and were able to escape a celestial body’s gravity.
  • It was launched in December 21, 1968 as the second launched spacecraft with a crew by the Apollo Space Program. It was the first crewed, but third flight of Saturn V rocket. For the Kennedy Space Center, it is the first human spaceflight.

Beginning Of The Space Race

  • The United States was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union in the 1950s until the early 1960s. In October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, which they called Sputnik 1. It fired imaginations and caused the fear in the world that started the Sputnik crisis.
  • The launch of Sputnik showed that the Soviet Union could deliver nuclear weapons over different continents that challenged the United States’ superiority in politics, military, and economics.
  • The Sputnik crisis started the Space Race. This was a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to achieve different firsts in the industry of spaceflights.
  • President John F. Kennedy believed that the United States should remain superior over all the other nations. He was determined to keep this, and needed to choose a goal that would make him win. He chose a project which was to land a man on a Moon and return him to Earth. He named this project, “Project Apollo”.

Inside The Apollo

  • The spacecraft was composed of 3 primary components. These were a Command Module, Service Module, and two-stage Lunar Module. CM had a cabin which suited 3 astronauts and would only have the parts needed to return to the Earth. The SM part supplied electricity, oxygen, and water to the CM. The role of the two-stage LM was to cover a decent landing on the Moon and to help in ascending the return of the astronauts into the orbit.

Apollo 8 Crew

  • On November 20, 1967, the prime crew of Apollo 8 was announced. It consisted of Frank Borman II as the commander, Michael Collins as the command module pilot, and William Anders as lunar module pilot. Collins was replaced by James Lovell Jr. as the CM pilot after he needed to have surgery in July 1968.
  • This mission was unique because this was the first one to have a commander who was the most inexperienced on the team. Lovell Jr. was the most experienced as he was part of missions, Gemini VII and Gemini XII, where Lovell Jr. was the commander.
  • This was also the first mission wherein a previous commander was not chosen as the commander for this project. This was also the first mission wherein two crewmates, Lovell Jr. and Borman II were reunited from another mission.
  • Apollo 8 had a backup crew consisting of Neil Armstrong as the commander, Lovell Jr. as CMP, and Buzz Aldrin as LMP. Lovell Jr. became part of the prime crew, Aldrin was moved up as CMP, and LMP was given to Fred Haise Jr.
  • This is the first mission where there was a support crew who were tasked to maintain the flight plan, checklists, and mission ground rules. The support crew was composed of Ken Mattingly, Vance Brand and Gerald Carr. They developed simulators for the prime and backup crew to practice on.
  • The only person allowed to directly communicate with the flight crew is the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM. A CAPCOM is an astronaut located at the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas. The CAPCOMs for the Apollo 8 are the backup crew and the support crew.


  • Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968 at 7:50 AM at Cape Kennedy, Florida. The prime crew were on their flight to the Moon after 50 minutes when the translunar injection was performed.
  • It was set down on an elliptical lunar orbit of 69 hours and 8 minutes after its liftoff. It was set to a nearly circular orbit of 59.7 by 60.7 nautical miles where it stayed for eight orbits after it had flown for two elliptical miles of 168.5 by 60 nautical miles with an inclination of 12 degrees to the equator.
  • The trans-Earth injection was performed from behind the Moon after 89 hours and 19 minutes. On December 27, a splashdown occured in the Pacific when a nearly flawless mission was completed after 147 hours.

Did You Know?

  • Apollo 8 entered the lunar orbit and orbited the Moon ten times on Christmas Eve 1968. They broadcast photos and their observations from the spacecraft. They also took turns reading the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis. This broadcast was the most watched broadcast ever.
  • This mission set a new world record in the year 1968 for its speed of 24,200 miles per hour. It was said to be faster than a speeding bullet.
  • The mission control of Apollo 8 waited for 89 hours before they regained contact with the crew after their descent back to Earth on Christmas Day. James Lovell’s famous statement in the radio transmission was “Roger, please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.”