50 years ago: USA astronauts provided divine surprise

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Back in 2012, Anders shared his experiences with us once again.

Former US astronaut William "Bill" Anders was one of the three crew members of the Apollo 8 programme.

And amid all the turmoil, on December 21, 1968, three men - Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders - lifted off into the unknown atop a Saturn V Rocket on the first manned mission to orbit the moon. And yet, a year that was shaped by bloodshed is now best remembered for the Apollo 8 mission - a crewed mission around the moon in the last days of the year.

"The number of USA troops killed in action in Vietnam had surged past 30,000".

From Aug. 26 - Aug. 29, violence and civil unrest marred the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The astronauts had seen the Earth and they had seen the moon, but they'd never seen them together - the ugly broken world beneath them and the lovely, breakable one in front of them. Anders, Lovell and Borman were the first men in history to orbit the moon after their initial Earth-orbit-only flight was scrapped amidst space-race panic vis a vis Russian Federation.

The Earth, as photographed by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, December 24, 1968.

Now 90 years old, Borman is the oldest living American astronaut. Lovell also is 90 and Anders is 85.

Three happy Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman left William A. Anders center and James A. Lovell stroll across the deck of the USS Yorktown after their recovery from the Pacific Ocean Dec. 28 1968
Apollo 8: Around The Moon and Back

Prior to Apollo 8, the Soviet Union beat the Americans to launch the first satellite, Sputnik in 1957; send the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin in 1961; send the first woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963; and send the first probes to the moon, Venus and Mars. "Look at that picture over there!" Century. In the foreground the grey repellent the moon with his verkraterten surface, behind the blue Planet, in pitch black All inviting, but also touching blue and white shimmers.

Borman knew this would be a mission full of firsts - no human being had ever traveled further.

Another view from lunar orbit that might look familiar is this one, a less perfectly framed image of the Earth rising over of the Moon's horizon.

Concerned for their commander, Lovell and Anders recorded a message for mission controllers to listen to offline rather than broadcast the fact that Borman was jettisoning his lunch from both ends. And so it brought people together again and also demonstrated the ability of good leadership, teamwork and initiative on the part of the mission control team at NASA taking nearly certain catastrophe into a successful recovery. It wasn't a big emotional event. That flight was the most demanding, he said, "But Apollo 8 was the one of exploration, the one of repeating the Lewis and Clark expedition ... finding the new Earth". Too often forgotten are the missions that came just before the boots on the ground, the ambitious dress rehearsals that were death-defying, hold-you-breath moments in their own right.

Apollo 8 was America's initial manned mission to the moon. War, riots, assassinations - the mood was hardly festive, said the author of a recent book on Apollo 8, Jeffrey Kluger. This historic mission launched on December 21, 1968 to demonstrate a lunar trajectory and was the first crewed launch of the Saturn V rocket.

They call it the "overview effect" - the feeling that astronauts have when they look down on the Earth and appreciate the fragility of the planet, the thin skin of atmosphere wrapped around this uniquely wet and diverse celestial body. Anders made more history when he snapped one of the most iconic photographs in history: "Earthrise", showing the blue-and-green-dappled planet floating in the dark void of space from 239,000 miles away. Borman was, however, less impressed with the idea of space tourism and plans to send non-astronauts to Mars.

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