Astronaut remembers Apollo 8 mission: "How did we ever do that?"


On Christmas Eve half a century ago, in the most-watch television program at the time, the opening verses of the Bible were read in turn by the three-member crew of Apollo 8 as they orbited the moon.

NASA is now planning to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

It wants to learn the skills and develop the technology to enable a future human landing on Mars. That was the picture - the one that would be called Earthrise - that rested inside Bill Anders' camera.

Anders, 85, said he's a "big supporter" of the "remarkable" unmanned programmes, "mainly because they're much cheaper".

Meanwhile, robotic probes are still exploring Mars.

Image copyright NASA Image caption An artist's rendering of the Mars Ice Home concept. 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. There would be only the single engine of the command module, which would be needed repeatedly - to fly to the moon, to enter lunar orbit, to escape from the lunar orbit, and to return to earth.

The crew splashed down into the Pacific Ocean at 15:51 UTC on 27 December, ending the first crewed mission to the Moon. They were picked up by the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. It paved the way for the Apollo 11 mission which landed on the Moon just seven months later.

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But the former astronaut is scathing about how Nasa has evolved since the heady days of President John F Kennedy's pledge to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine - who at age 43 missed Apollo - marvels over the gutsy decision in August that year to launch astronauts to the moon in four months' time. "I don't think the public is that interested". "I thought, what the hell is that?" We imagined what the world would look like when viewed from the heavens.

A thorough investigation, including reconstruction of the scene as it took place, was then used to prove that the image was in fact taken by Anders. "I'm not a very popular guy at Nasa for saying that, but that's what I think", he explained.

Fred Spier, a senior lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, notes in his article "The Elusive Apollo 8 Earthrise Photo" that Borman and Lovell each played a crucial part in prompting Anders, who had the only colour camera, to take the shot.

"I took them to my area of the photo lab where we had a special processor that I had built for Apollo space film", Underwood told the Independent in 2009. There's no way commercial space ventures such as SpaceX and Blue Origin could do what they're doing without advanced software tools, plus the frontier-pushing mindset that has guided the careers of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and so many others. "Musk and Bezos, they're talking about putting colonies on Mars, that's nonsense".

Anders said he felt that the lasting legacy of the mission would be "Earthrise" a photo taken by the crew showing humanity's home planet hanging in the blackness of space above the lunar horizon. "I started to wonder why I was here, what's my goal here... it sort of dawned me", he said.

Anders, who now lives in Anacortes, has been featured in national and worldwide media this week, marking the 50th anniversary of that famous mission and memorable photograph from December 1968. The excerpt below from my 2017 book Apollo 8 describes the scene, reconstructed with the help of interviews with the crew, as the astronauts emerged from the far side of the moon, not yet knowing the image that awaited them.


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