In the summer of 1968, time was running out.
[LAUNCH CONTROL: T-minus 60 seconds and counting, T-minus 60 seconds and counting...(fade under narration)]
The clock was ticking toward John F. Kennedy's deadline of landing Americans on the Moon by the end of the decade. Just a year and a half earlier, a fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft had killed three astronauts, requiring a complete redesign of the moonship. The lunar lander was proving troublesome, too. And the Saturn booster rocket had misbehaved during a test flight, although engineers said they had the problem under control.
But there were hints that the Soviet Union might try to send a cosmonaut around the Moon within months. So NASA managers devised a daring plan. The first manned Apollo flight was scheduled for October, with three astronauts orbiting Earth for more than a week. If it worked as planned, the next mission would have a far more ambitious goal: it would orbit the Moon.
[fade up LAUNCH CONTROL: 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, we have commit -- we have liftoff...(fade back under narration)]
The plan worked perfectly. Apollo 8 launched 40 years ago today, with crewmembers Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. They orbited the Moon 10 times, beaming back live TV pictures of the lunar surface on Christmas Eve.
Their daring mission helped achieve John F. Kennedy's goal, as astronauts landed on the Moon just seven months later.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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