The Space Race and the Apollo Program in 1968

The Space Race and the Apollo Program in 1968

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The Space Race and the Apollo Program in 1968


I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or so expensive to accomplish.

These words, uttered by President John F. Kennedy in May 1961 brought forth a new era in American history, the idea of sending a man to the moon. Only seven years later, in 1968, did America finally prepare to meet Kennedy’s deadline with the Apollo 7 and 8 missions. Recovering from the tragic fire of Apollo 1 in 1967, Apollo 7 put the Space program back on track. Only two months later, Apollo 8 led the first voyage around the Moon. These missions drew America’s goal for a lunar landing closer and took the Soviet Union out of the Cold War’s so-called "Space Race."

The origins of the Cold War can be traced to the conclusion of World War II. Beginning with the Yalta Convention in 1945, and continuing with the Potsdam Conference later that year, the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republic became embittered with each other over the division of Europe. This was a direct result of capitalism and communism with the blockade of Germany, the support of Communism in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Turkey and Greece and the refusal of Soviet forces to demobilize. Soon, the argument turned to America’s use of the atomic bomb in Japan in August 1945. The Soviets at first highly commended America for hastening Japan’s surrender but then repudiated it several weeks later. They claimed that it destroyed the balance of power between the two great world powers. By the early 1950’s, the focus shifted from the dilemmas in Europe to an even bigger threat, the threat of nuclear war. Both the US and the USSR claimed supremacy in Nuclear technology, specifically, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). However, events changed permanently on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first successful orbiting satellite. The United States immediately reacted to the launch by claiming it would have been first in launching a satellite had it not been for planning mistakes.

After the launch of Sputnik II in November 1957, the United States made its first public reaction.

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In a speech on November 7, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower told the nation that its defenses were sound and that the United States had "made a space ‘breakthrough’ by perfecting a nose cone capable of surviving entry into the earth’s atmosphere at ICBM speeds." This concept was part of the early development of the heat shield, which protected spacecraft and their crews during atmospheric reentry. Also, he told the nation that he was creating a new position, Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and that the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, James R. Killian would receive the post. This position would later to aid the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the organization that would send men to the moon.

NASA’s foundations came as early as 1915 with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Its mission, as written in the Naval Appropriations Act of 1915, was to "supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked, and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions." NACA survived until 1958, but suffered from a lack of scope in projects, as well as the ability to plan ahead and manage large-scale projects. Only a year after the launching of Sputnik I, President Eisenhower, with the help from Killian, officially created NASA. The Space Race had officially begun.

Before leaving office in January 1961, President Eisenhower had successfully solidified America’s goals to win the Space Race. His successor, John F. Kennedy, planned to push those goals even further. Three short months after being sworn into office, Kennedy called a special joint session of Congress and on May 25, 1961, made his famous speech in which he called for America to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In another famous speech, made in 1962, Kennedy informed guests at Rice University about the importance of the nation’s space program. He said:

We choose to go the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.


After the succession of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, NASA continued its work. Projects Mercury and Gemini had both gone off without incident. Mercury and Gemini were both conceived as ways of planning the intricacies of spacecraft operation, the possibility of walking in space, testing the heat shield and other shipboard functions as well as determine how a crew would be affected by space travel. It was now 1967 and America was planning Project Apollo, the missions that would put Americans on the moon. Apollo I was the first mission that made the seemingly impossible mission a reality. Its three crew members were Virgil "Gus" Grissom, a member of the original 7 astronauts chosen for the space program; Ed White, the first American to walk in space; and Roger Chaffee, a rookie astronaut. Their mission to test the Apollo craft, officially called AS-204, but it was informally known as Apollo I.. On January 27, a long awaited test was initiated to determine how the spacecraft would function on internal power. The test was nothing new, and as with many of the previous tests, problems arose. One such problem was with the communications system. Donald "Deke" Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts, grounded in 1962 because of an irregular heart beat, now served as chief of the Manned Spacecraft Center’s Flight Crew Operations Directorate, met with the astronauts that morning for breakfast, along with Joe Shea, the NASA manager in charge of Project Apollo. Grissom, as he had done in the past, told the administrators about the problems with his ship: faulty wiring, difficulties with environmental control and most importantly, communications. Grissom told Slayton and Shea that the communications system could barely work on the pad when the Spacecraft center was only five-and-a-half miles away. How would it function when the spacecraft was millions of miles away on its trip to the moon?

Despite all these problems, the test was still run that day. At 6:31 P.M., only 11 minutes into the mission, a spark ignited inside the cabin and caused all three astronauts to scream for help. White yelled, "Fire"; Grissom yelled "I’ve got a fire in the cockpit" and then Chaffee repeated the word "Fire." But it was too late. The men who had been working outside the craft had evacuated the area; they returned to discover the fire had consumed the entire capsule. NASA later found out that the men had been severely burned, but had died of asphyxiation from the toxic fumes caused by the combustion of synthetic materials in the craft. The fire took the lives of the astronauts in a mere 8 ½ seconds.

NASA was in shock following the tragedy. Slayton and James Webb, NASA’s head administrator, cancelled all crew assignments indefinitely and an immediately began investigation. Congress allowed NASA to conduct its own private inquiry before turning it over to the Senate Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. For many in Congress, the fire proved that NASA was not immune to crisis and that it suffered from the same problems as any organization. Cost cutting, a disregard for safety, and management problems were all discussed. Webb replaced Joe Shea with George Low, who was to head up the rebuilding of the Apollo program. The NASA investigation, which totaled approximately 3000 pages, gave Webb enough reason to replace Shea. The pressurized hatch, which was supposed to be opened from the inside, was too heavy for Ed White to push as the fire engulfed him. Also, faulty wiring under Grissom’s couch was assumed to be the cause of the fire. The pure oxygen atmosphere greatly contributed to the inferno by expanding the size and speed of the fire at an astronomical rate.

George Low quickly began the work of rebuilding Apollo. The backup crew of Apollo I was chosen to be the first group of men to test the new craft. The crew consisted of Commander Walter "Wally" Schirra, Command Module Pilot Donn Eisele and Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham. Apollo had resumed several months earlier with the launchings of Apollo 4, 5 and 6, unmanned Saturn IB rockets that were used to test the liftoff capabilities of any manned mission. But now twenty-three months after the Apollo I, NASA was ready to send men back into space.

Former Navy Lt. Cmdr.- now Captain-, Walter "Wally" Schirra led the Apollo 7 mission. Schirra one of the original seven astronauts selected in 1962 was a veteran of both Project Mercury and Project Gemini, and had been the third American to go into orbit during Project Mercury. In December 1965, Schirra, along with fellow astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, rendezvoused their Gemini 6 craft with Gemini 7 - the first time in history two spacecraft had been brought together in space.. Stafford later served as Schirra’s backup as Commander for Apollo 7 Backup Crew and as Commander for Apollo 10.

Schirra nicknamed Apollo 7 "Wally’s Ship" to make it clear to everyone that he was in command. All decisions regarding the test schedule, the crew preparation, and simulator time had to be approved by Schirra. According to crewmate Walter Cunningham, "Wally was the kind of guy, who felt, intuitively, how he wanted a system changed. If necessary, he would turn the issue into an emotional vendetta. Fortunately, Wally’s intuitions were often the right ones." He also describes Schirra’s ability to be a hero, the man who would save manned space flight.

Despite his advanced age - he was 45 years old and the country’s oldest astronaut at the time - Schirra was one of the most youthful-minded astronauts. He enjoyed fast cars, parties and water skiing and as a result, was probably the most popular of all the astronauts and a hero to the public. As Cunningham put it: "Instead of going through the motions, he became the wagonmaster. He was going to steer us and he left no doubt about it, even in those small moments when no one else really cared who was steering."

Major Donn Eisele served as the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 7. Born June 23, 1930, in Columbus, Ohio, Eisele graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and then went to test pilot school, where he received a Master of Science degree. His first major assignment involved working as an experimental test pilot at the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico. While in New Mexico, Eisele began to file the forms for astronaut training and was chosen for the Astronaut Corps with the third group of astronauts in October 1963.

Eisele believed that he was the moderate in comparison to his two fellow crewmates. "Wally, " he said was "a very relaxed kind of fellow. Walt is a little more aggressive and hard-charging, and I’m kind of [the] moderating influence between the two."

Walter Cunningham, a civilian, rounded out the crew of the first manned Apollo mission following the fire. Cunningham, like Eisele, was a rookie to space flight and was also a member of the third group of astronauts chosen for the Corps. Cunningham, a former Major in the Marine Reserve Corps, was to be the second civilian to fly in space. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon on Apollo 11, was the first, serving as Commander of Gemini 8 several years earlier.

In an interview with the New York Times shortly before the flight, Cunningham commented that he would try not to let the fame of the flight bother him. He said, "Everything after my first lift-off is going to be pretty anticlimactic." Cunningham’s role in the mission was to be substantially less that that of the other two crewmen, Schirra and Eisele. Because the Lunar Module had not yet been completed in time, it was decided that the Service Module would be sent alone and, as a result, would limit the work of Cunningham. His duties included monitoring the spacecraft systems to make sure they were all operating properly. The Lunar Module would not be used until the Apollo 9 mission in early 1969.

Apollo 7’s objectives were simple: "Demonstrate CSM/crew performance; demonstrate crew/space vehicle/mission support facilities performance during a manned CSM (Command and Service Module) mission; demonstrate CSM rendezvous capability." According to Cunningham there were three objectives for the Apollo program. The first was first landing on the moon. The second was to accomplish the first circumlunar flight and the third was to operate the first manned flight of the Apollo Spacecraft. Cunningham and the rest of the crew, along with NASA, knew that any other Apollo mission would have to wait until a manned Apollo spacecraft was tested.

On October 11, 1967, Apollo 7 was launched aboard a Saturn IB rocket to an orbit around the Earth. The launch went almost flawlessly with the exception of a slight delay in the countdown and at 11:03 A.M., Project Apollo was underway once again. Travelling at an approximate speed of 17,500 miles per hour in an elliptical orbit ranging from 140 to 183 miles above the earth, Apollo 7 orbited the Earth every 90 minutes. Schirra told Mission Control in Houston that the crew was "having a ball."

This mission unlike many other later missions did not involve any type of scientific studies. The only science experiments listed in the mission plan were to the effects of space on the human body and photography from space. Photographs were only supposed to be taken when it did not interfere with the crew’s primary objective: the shakedown of the Command and Service Module. The photographs were also planned to be used for scientists’ study of continental drift, the theory that all the landmasses on Earth were at one time connected.

After 11 days, Apollo 7 returned to Earth after successfully completing every mission objective. Apollo completed a docking rendezvous that would be necessary for any future Apollo mission involving a Lunar Module. When the Lunar Module would return from the Moon, it would need to reconnect with the CSM for the trip home. Schirra’s crew simulated this with Apollo 7’s rocket and the procedure was later done completely during the shakedown cruise of the Lunar Module on Apollo 9.

There were however problems with Schirra and his crew. Schirra’s attitude had angered Slayton and Director of Flight Operations Chris Kraft at Mission Control to the point that Slayton gave Schirra a "tongue-lashing" on the behavior of his crew. All three men had developed head colds during the course of the mission and nerves soon became frayed. The issue of food was brought up as well as several different small procedures that Mission Control requested the crew perform. Schirra, who believed himself the all-controlling party decided against these "Mickey Mouse tasks" as he called and refused to make any more changes to the flight plan.

Schirra also got into trouble when he told the crew that they would re-enter the atmosphere without their pressure helmets. He argued that, because of there head colds, the increased pressured could damage their eardrums. Cunningham, playing the role of good soldier followed Schirra’s lead when it came to discussions over procedures with Mission Control. However, later he wrote that, "The entire Apollo 7 crew was tarred and feathered through the actions of Wally Schirra."

Despite these problems, Apollo 7 was pronounced a national success. The Russians, who all along had been funding their space program, could only sit back and watch. Their premier cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov had been killed in April 1967 when his parachute failed to deploy on the first testing of the Soyuz I craft. Meanwhile, NASA was already preparing for their next mission, Apollo 8. George Low, Apollo Program Director believed that if Apollo 7 was successful, why keep Apollo 8 in Earth orbit? The decision was made that Apollo 8 would no longer be an Earth orbit flight. It would, instead, go to the moon before the end of the year.

Apollo 8 was supposed to fly in February 1969 after the expected completion of the lunar module. However, as previously discussed, the module’s construction schedule was delayed and the possibility of not meeting Kennedy’s end of the decade deadline loomed closer. There were reports that the Soviets were ready to resume manned missions following Komarov’s death and had a rocket that could take two cosmonauts around the Moon and back. Low approached Thomas O. Paine, James Webb’s deputy administrator and approached with the idea of changing the mission on August 15, 1968. Webb was immediately shocked. In the eight years he had been administrator, he had overseen all the missions, including the Apollo I fire, and believed that the mission was too risky, even for him. He discussed the matter with President Lyndon B. Johnson and agreed to step down, allowing Paine to take over duties as administrator. Before leaving, Webb consulted with Chris Kraft, Slayton and slated Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman to determine the feasibility of this new plan. The mission would be launched on December 21 and would circle the Moon approximately 10 times. Later that same time, on August 19, a public announcement was made that there was a possibility of a change in the mission. This vague statement was the only one NASA could make at the time. It had to wait to see how Apollo 7 would fare. If it was successful, NASA could commit Apollo 8 to the Moon.

Veteran astronaut Frank Borman was named to be the Commander of Apollo 8. A former Air Force test pilot, Colonel Borman applied and was accepted to the Astronaut Corps in 1962 with the second group of astronauts. Borman flew on Gemini 7, the docking mission that met with Apollo 7 Commander Wally Schirra after a record 14 days in space.

Borman was also the man who was chosen to sit on the review board that investigated the Apollo I fire from almost two years prior. Borman also oversaw the refit of the Apollo spacecraft and made many of the crucial decisions regarding safety aboard the craft, much to the displeasure of Apollo 7 Commander Schirra. Schirra, along with Cunningham and Eisele had spent the months following the fire perfecting their performance with the craft on the simulators. Schirra and his crew had several suggestions that they felt were necessary to improve the craft, but Borman was the one who declined them, citing the time involved.

Borman, a married man with two sons, was described in a pre-flight interview as a "competitive, take charge officer." Borman had medical problems as a young child as well as in his flying days. In 1951, while flying a jet, his eardrum burst during a dive and he was grounded. However, after several x-ray treatments, his condition was improved and regained his flight status. This determination was evident in Borman’s approach to the Apollo 8 mission.

Navy Captain James Lovell was not even supposed to be on Apollo 8. Future Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins was on the original Apollo 8 Prime Crew. Collins was scheduled to be the Command Module Pilot but it was discovered he had a growth on his spinal column that needed to be removed with surgery. Although he had trained for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing, Lovell was bumped up to the Prime Crew.

Jim Lovell held the record for the most time in space by any one person, almost 18 days by the time of Apollo 8. He was Borman’s co-pilot on Gemini 6 and later commanded Gemini 12 one year later, in 1966. Some wondered why Lovell was serving as Command Module Pilot for this mission despite his almost unequaled experience, but Slayton and the other NASA brass had originally believed Lovell would be on Apollo 11. Also in the second group of astronauts selected, Lovell was known for his easy going attitude, his love for physical fitness, and his dedication to the space program. Frank Borman later wrote that he had never worked with anyone with such good-natured optimism. Lovell was married with four children at the time of the launch, his youngest son Jeffrey being born shortly after his Gemini 6 flight.

The final member of the crew was Air Force Major William Anders. Bill Anders was the only rookie on this mission and served as the Lunar Module Pilot. As with Walter Cunningham on Apollo 7, the two were Lunar Module Pilots on ships without Lunar Modules. Both Cunningham and Anders had a continuing joke about the subject.

As with Cunningham, he would serve as systems engineer, monitoring the ship’s functions while Lovell and Borman would do the actual flying.

Anders, born in 1933 in Hong Kong, the son of a Naval executive officer, graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1955 but accepted a commission in the Air Force rather than the Navy. He flew for the Air Defense Command early in his career and logged almost 3,000 hours of flight time. Anders entered NASA in 1963 with the third group of astronauts. Originally a science man, Anders was asked by reporters in a press conference shortly before the mission whether or not he believed the Apollo 8 mission had any scientific significance. He responded by saying the mission had the "opportunity to add scientific bits and pieces to scientific knowledge. I suspect the old engineers on the would said the airplane would never sell, either."

There were some that worried that there was the possibility of solar radiation affecting the crew on their trip to the Moon. Anders was probably the most qualified person to diagnose and deal with this problem, should the need have arisen. According to the Space Disturbance Forecasting Center in Boulder, Colorado on December 21, 1968, the possibility of major flares existed within the next 24 hours. Anders knew more about space radiation than any other astronaut did. His service was to be invaluable if the forecasting center was correct.

Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968 with a crowd of dignitaries watching. Approximately 250,000 people watched from Cape Kennedy, with 2,000 seats allocated for special guests. Dignitaries included Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, John’s younger brother, and Charles Lindbergh, the pilot who completed the first successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean and Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Potter Stewart.

President Johnson sent the following message to the three astronauts at the beginning of their flight to the Moon.

Congratulations on the magnificent beginning of the Apollo 8 adventure. The visions of the past are coming close and close to becoming the amazing achievements of the present.

I am confident that the world’s finest equipment will strive to match the courage of our astronauts. If it does that, a successful mission is assured. Prudence is a handmaiden of courage, however, so we must give top priority to astronaut safety as decisions are made each step of the way.

The mission objectives for Apollo 8 were two-fold. The first part of the mission involved the testing of the Saturn 5-rocket booster and its ability to start and restart once in space. The rocket had limited success in the past. It flew successfully in the unmanned Apollo 5 mission but had some difficulties in the similarly unmanned Apollo 6 mission. The 110-meter high rocket weighed more than 3,000 tons and consumed one ton of kerosene and two tons of liquid oxygen in the first stage alone. The media was fascinated by the rocket and continued to give attention to it.

The second part of the mission was to bring back the confidence that the Space Program had once had. Since the fire, NASA’s reputation had been tarnished and the Soviets were planning to take advantage of this. By having the mission scheduled for the week of Christmas, the public relations for the mission would be extraordinary. Apollo 8 itself was scheduled to go into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. Frank Borman was asked by a number of reporters if the crew planned to make a Christmas type gesture from space. He tried to answer at first, but finally admitted, "Quite Frankly, right now we don’t have any idea what it might be."

Two days into the mission, the spacecraft was pulled into the moon’s gravitational field and there was no turning back from there. Anders confessed that, "The long ride out to the Moon was, frankly, a bit of a drag." A bit of anxiety occurred when Borman came down with vomiting and diarrhea. In the 4-meter capsule, there was no way that Borman could be isolated and Mission Control was worried about the other two crewmembers. The first thought was that Borman had received a dangerous dose of cosmic radiation, but it was later determined that it was simply a 24-hour flu.

During the trip to the Moon came the first television broadcast. The most memorable aspect of this broadcast came when Jim Lovell wished his mother, Blanche, a happy 73rd birthday. She told reporters later that, "when they had so many things to do in space that he would think of his mother on her birthday." Following the broadcast, the astronauts performed several housekeeping chores and preparations were underway for the most important public relations aspect of this mission, the broadcast on Christmas Eve.

It was now Christmas Eve and the moment had come. Television and radio stations across the world interrupted their programming for a live broadcast from lunar orbit. Apollo 8 was preparing itself for the T.L.I, the translunar injection, where the craft would enter the orbit. At approximately 4:30 A.M. Houston time, the final burn of the Saturn 5 rocket occurred and the ship was propelled into the orbit. Back in Houston, the families of the astronauts were overjoyed. Marilyn Lovell was especially overjoyed that her husband’s voice was the first ever head from lunar orbit.

After losing contact with NASA, Apollo 8 traveled around the dark side of the moon in preparation for a burning of the SPS, the Service Propulsion System, which would slow the craft enough for it to make a successful orbit. 45 minutes later, Borman, Anders and Lovell became the first humans to witness an Earthrise. At that moment, Anders took the most memorable picture from space at the time, perhaps in the history of space flight. Anders, when asked what part of the mission stood out the most for him told an interviewer that the Earthrise was the most spectacular. He said that at that point, he "[realized] that the Earth was even more interesting than the Moon." He continued later by saying, "You realize that the Earth is about as physically significant as one grain of sand on a beach. But it’s our only home."

During the ninth lunar orbit, the broadcast was ready to be beamed back to Earth. After much discussion, the astronauts still could not decide what they were planning to say during the broadcast regarding the timeliness of their mission. Borman suggested that each man discuss the importance of the mission for him. When it came time for Anders to begin his introduction, he began reading from Genesis in the King James Bible. All three crewmen read a part of the 10 passages from the Bible that Borman had brought with him. The broadcast engulfed the world. Many were thrilled at the decision to quote the Bible, but some questioned the ability to separate religion from state in outer space. Borman’s final words were perhaps the most moving: "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we pause with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth." Later Jim Lovell told the world that there indeed was a Santa Claus.

Apollo 8 remained in orbit for several more hours before firing the SPS to build up the necessary seed to push the craft toward Earth. The atmospheric reentry was almost flawless, but faced the challenge of aligning the heat shield so that the ship would not burn up as well the alignment of the craft in a corridor only 16 kilometers wide. On Friday, December 27th, only 2 and half days after their historic broadcast, the world could only wait to see whether or not Apollo 8 could return safely through the Earth’s atmosphere. Because of the broadcast blackout, the controllers at Mission Control could only wait to see if the crew would emerge into the lower atmosphere before it would land in the Pacific Ocean. The craft did come through and splashed down approximately 4 miles from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown. A helicopter was dispatched and picked up the three astronauts to take them back to the carrier. One of the helicopter’s crew yelled out, "Hey, Apollo 8, is the moon made of green cheese?" Anders replied, "It’s made of American cheese." According to Deke Slayton and Alan Shepard, "The road to the Moon was now open."

When the astronauts were onboard the Yorktown, they received a recorded telephone call from the President:

This is a message to Colonel Borman, Captain Lovell, and Major Anders.

We want to welcome you home. We thank god you are back safe again.

You have made us very proud to be alive for this particular moment in history. You made us feel akin to those Europeans nearly five centuries ago who heard stories of the New World for the first time. There is but no other comparison that we can feel that is equal to what you have done and what we feel….

If I could have exchanged thought with you, I was going to ask you whether you felt better coming down or going up, and to have you tell me some of your experiences because you have seen what man has really never seen before. You have taken all of all over the world into a new era.

My thoughts this morning went back more than 10 years ago in the Valley when we saw Sputnik racing through the skies, and we realized that America had a big job ahead of it.

It gave me so much pleasure to know you men have done a large part of that.
So we rejoice that you are well, and we send you congratulations, from all of your fellow countrymen and from all peaceful people in the world.

Well Done.

The crew had done it. All the mission objectives had been met and it looked like America had beaten the Russians in the race to the Moon. While this is definitely true, several things need to be said about the Soviet Space Program in 1968. As previously discussed, their hero and primary cosmonaut, Vladimir Karamov was killed when his Soyuz I craft failed to deploy its parachute after the reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. The Soviet’s powerful ruling body, the Politburo, approved plans for a manned lunar orbit mission in July 1967. The agreement came after over 16 months of bureaucratic squabbling between over five hundred different organizations, all with their individual say in the Russian Space Program. By March 1967, a CIA report crossed President Johnson’s desk with U.S. satellite reconnaissance photos that showed an unusual rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet launch site. The CIA believed that this new rocket would be used to transport cosmonauts to the Moon. Two weeks after the report reached Johnson, the Soviets began sending these new rockets into space. Unfortunately for the Soviets, many of the ships malfunctioned and either crashed or was stranded in Earth orbit. Russian ships were very deficient in some areas. They did not have on onboard computer nor did they have on board meters for the monitoring of spacecraft systems. All information was fed from the ground, not allowing the cosmonaut to make sudden changes in course and speed. Also, since there was no reentry guidance system, the Soviets could not accurately predict where the craft would land.

By March 1968, the Soviets were planning to try again for lunar orbit. The ship, named Zond 4 would attempt a simulated circumlunar flight, but after another guidance system malfunction, Zond 4 was placed in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. When the ship tried to reenter the atmosphere, its service module did not properly separate and unplanned descent occurred and the ship looked like it would land nowhere in Central Asia. Controllers at the Cosmodome activated a self-destruct sequence and the debris landed off the coast of West Africa.

A month later, another failure occurred when an unmanned rocket was aborted after a short circuit in the automatic control system. The short caused the rocket to spin out of control and was destroyed with a self-destruct program from the ground. It was now the summer of 1968 and U.S. intelligence learned that the Soviets were planning a circumlunar mission for December. Because of the alignment window, the Russians would be able to send their craft up 12-14 days earlier than the Americans. Frank Borman believed that this discovery was the main reason that NASA changed the mission from an Earth-orbit flight to a Lunar-orbit one.

By September 1968, Russia had deployed Zond 5, another unmanned craft, which was launched into lunar orbit. Once in orbit, the craft simulated a human voice to test voice communications from the Moon. When the craft tried to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere seven days later, controllers sent wrong commands to the ship and it landed in the Indian Ocean, not in the USSR as was previously planned.

During the Apollo 7 mission, Soviet scientist Dr. Leonid Sedov was asked whether or not his country was planning a trip to the moon. In an obvious attempt to deny the race, Sedov said that, "The question of sending astronauts to the moon at this time is not an item on our agenda. The exploration of the moon is possible, but it not a priority. Dr. Sedov and his party were invited to view parts of the Cape Kennedy space center, but declined, saying, "We do not intend to go to Cape Kennedy at this time," because, "quite frankly, we cannot reciprocate."

Following the Apollo 7 mission, Russian space agency officials sent their final unmanned mission, Zond 6, into a trajectory for the Moon. The craft flew around the Moon and was heading back to the Earth when part of the entry hatch depressurized, killing all the biological experiments on board. The landing was just as bad. The parachute opened at too high an altitude and the mission ended with the craft smashing into the ground, "flattened like a pancake."

While Zond 6 flew, the United States was making preparations of its own. It formally announced that Apollo 8 would be sending a crew to the moon. However, six days after the crash of Zond 6, the USSR officially announced that the previous three Zond missions were precursors of a crewed lunar mission. Then, the six surviving Soviet cosmonauts wrote a personal letter to the Politburo asking for an immediate authorization of a Soviet crewed mission. The cosmonauts then flew together to the Cosmodome to begin preparing for their new mission. They believed that if they were present at the construction and development, they could better anticipate problems with the spacecraft. However, the letter from the Politburo never came and the launch window closed. Apollo 8 was then launched successfully and by the end of December 1968, the Russian project was cancelled. The United States had won the Space Race. All that was left was to send a man to the Moon.

And as most of us know by now, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 with crewman Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first men to walk on the Moon. Originally Jim Lovell was scheduled to be participating in this mission, serving as the Command Module Pilot and remaining in orbit while the Lunar Module descended to the lunar surface. However, because of Michael Collins’ surgery, he was pushed back and eventually ended up on the Apollo 11 flight.

Kennedy’s deadline had been met despite all of the problems that faced the Apollo program. Following the Apollo I fire, the shakeup and investigation lasted more than twenty months before a manned mission was flown and the United States still made it by 1969.

The men of the Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 missions all later went on to other careers, however none were equally impressive. Wally Schirra announced prior to the mission that this flight would be his last and retired from the Corps shortly after it. Major Donn Eisele never flew in space again, mainly because of the actions of Schirra. Because of his retirement and his behavior on board Apollo 7, Eisele was pushed to back of the line when it came to Slayton’s crew assignments. He did, however, serve on the backup crew for Apollo 10.

Cunningham’s future was in limbo. Slayton had not assigned him anywhere after the Apollo 7 flight. A few months past, with Cunningham doing assorted press relations for NASA including a tour and parade through Australia and New Zealand. Cunningham was then transferred to work with the Orbital Laboratory Mission designed to launch in the early 1970’s. The project soon became known as Skylab. Cunningham was one of the first men to work and live aboard the modified rocket booster that would function just as its name implied a laboratory in space.

The Commander of the Apollo 8 mission followed his predecessor. Frank Borman, like Wally Schirra decided that Apollo 8 would be his last mission in space. His wife and children became more important to him and Borman bypassed the chance to be the Commander of an Apollo Lunar mission, most likely Apollo 13 or Apollo 14. Borman, much to his delight, ended his NASA career with a bang, providing America with a wonderful mission. Borman decided to join the corporate world and eventually became the CEO of Eastern Airlines. After serving with Eastern throughout the airline deregulation of the 1970’s, he and his wife Susan moved to New Mexico where they live today.

Jim Lovell’s space career, however, was not over. He originally was slated to be the Commander of Apollo 14 but after an illness hit Apollo 13 Commander Alan Shepard, he and his crew were bumped up to the prime crew of the 3rd lunar mission. Unfortunately for Lovell, his mission would not land on the moon. He and his two crewmates, Command Module Pilot Jack Sweigart and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise were forced to use their Lunar Module as a lifeboat after an explosion in the oxygen tank crippled the Command Module. Despite not being able to land on the moon, Lovell and his crew returned to Earth safely after spending several days in extreme cold without the luxury of extra oxygen or space for the three men.

After Bill Anders returned from the Moon, he became to examine his own faith. He and his Valerie had their doubts about religion even before Apollo 8, but after the mission, Bill decided to stop attending Church. The two soon had some family problems, but managed to resolve them in time for their birth of their last child, Diana, in 1972. Anders, like Lovell, wanted to go back to the Moon, but soon realized that his only future with NASA would be on the backup crew. Soon after though, President Nixon offered him the position of executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council and then a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. After immersing himself in the political world, he became the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then as the United States ambassador to Norway. Anders then entered the business world and soon became the CEO of General Dynamics and made the Fortune magazine list of the top ten highest CEOs in the nation.

Although he was not a member of either crew, Deke Slayton played an integral part in both missions. He was one of the astronauts; they trusted him; they liked him. After not being able to fly a mission because of the irregular heart beat, he had his dream come true in the 1970’s when he was chosen to participate in the Apollo-Soyuz project. An Apollo module would be sent into space from America while the Soviets would send up one of their Soyuz crafts. The two ships docked and the crews exchanged greetings from Earth orbit. For Slayton, it was not a moon mission, but it was worth it.

For the United States, the impossible became reality. Thanks to the work of hundreds of men and women, the Apollo mission succeeding and the United States sent men to the Moon by the end of the decade, just as John Kennedy said would happen. However, it was the astronauts who made the missions what they were. The men, once in space, were on their own, and despite overwhelming odds, were able to run near-perfect missions. Had it not been for them, America could not claim victory in the Space Race and provide something that the people of the United States were looking for: hope.



Bibliography
Books
Brooks, Courtney G., Grimwood, James M. and Swenson, Loyd S. Chariots for Apollo:
A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft. Washington DC: Scientific and Technical Information Branch, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1979.

Chaikin, Andrew. A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. New
York: Viking Press, 1994

Compton, William David. Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar
Exploration. Washington DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Management, Scientific and Technical Information Division, 1989.

Cunningham, Walter. The All-American Boys. New York: Macmillian Publishing Co.,
1977.

Ertel, Ivan D. The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology. Washington DC: Scientific and
Technical Information Division, NASA, 1969.


Lovell, Jim. Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1994.

McDougall, Walter A. The Heavens and the Earth : A Political History of the Space
Age. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Rosholt, Robert L. An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963. Washington DC:
Scientific and Technical Information Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1966.


Shepard, Alan B. and Slayton, Donald K. Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s
Race to the Moon. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1994.

Articles
"A Crew with Brains and Experience," New York Times, 22 December 1968, 36.

"A Relaxed Captain, a Methodical Major, and an Aggressive Civilian," New York Times,
12 October 1968, 21.

Blakeslee, Sandra, "250,000 at Cape Kennedy Watch Apollo Launch," New York Times,
22 December 1968, Sec. A, p. 36.

Chaikin, Andrew. "When We Last Saw Our Heroes." Air & Space/Smithsonian. Vol. 9,
no. 2 (1994): 54-61.

Cross, Michael. "The Kennedy Imperative," New Scientist, 18 December 1993, 26.

Folger, Tim, Richardson, Sarah and Zimmer Carl. "Remembering Apollo," Discover,
Vol. 15, no. 7 (1994): 38.

Pesavento, Peter. "TwoWeeks that Killed the Soviet Dream," New Scientist, 18
December 1993, 29.

"Russian Denies Moon Race is on," New York Times, 15 October 1968, 44.

Schmeck, Harold M., "Apollo to Study Theory of Drift," New York Times, 12 October
1968, Sec. L, p. 20.

Sullivan, Walter, "Apollo on Alert for Sun Flares," New York Times, 22 December 1968,
Sec. A, p. 36

Wilford, John Noble, "Astronaut Hails Perfect Mission," New York Times, 12 October
1968, Sec. A, p. 1.

Documents

Kennedy, John F. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States.1960-63.

Johnson, Lyndon B. Public Papers of the President of the United States. 1963-69.

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