50 Years Ago Apollo 8 Wished Earth A Merry Christmas Eve

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Amid a year of trying times in American history, three men embarked on an unprecedented journey few other humans have, and after capturing unseen views of Earth, these NASA astronauts united the country with a Christmas message.

On Christmas Eve 50 years ago, Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Jim Lovell were orbiting the moon on a mission to find the optimal spots for a potential moon landing, but the mission took a turn when the crew noticed Earth peeking out over the lunar horizon.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there! It’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” Anders said, before capturing one of the most important photographs ever taken.

The distant blue Earth is seen above the Moon's limb, in this handout picture taken by the Apollo 8 crew forty-five years ago, on December 24, 1968, courtesy of NASA. Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were launched atop a Saturn V rocket on December 21, 1968 circled the Moon ten times in their command module, and returned to Earth on December 27. The Apollo 8 mission's impressive list of firsts includes: the first humans to journey to the Earth's Moon, the first to fly using the Saturn V rocket, and the first to photograph the Earth from deep space. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters

The distant blue Earth is seen above the Moon’s limb, in this handout picture taken by the Apollo 8 crew on Dec. 24, 1968, courtesy of NASA. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters

As the three men orbited the moon as part of NASA’s mission on Dec. 24, 1968, the United States down below was experiencing tests to its unity as the country fought for equal rights and social justice during the civil rights movement. It also saw outrage at the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of two American icons: Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.

“I think the moon orbit, the first human beings — not only pulled the people of America together, but pulled people of many nations together,” NASA Astrobiologist Richard Hoover said to WHNT.

Before going to sleep on Christmas Eve in 1968 as the men hurdled through space, they tried to find the most fitting words to deliver on a live broadcast.

“We all tried for quite a while to figure out something, and it all came up trite or foolish,” Borman recalled to The Sentinel, until the wife of a friend suggested they take turns reading verses from the Bible.

And so they did.

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you,” Anders began in the book of Genesis.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth,” he added. “And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.”

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth,” Borman ended the broadcast. (RELATED: My Grandfather’s Christmas On The Battlefield: 74th Anniversary Of The Battle Of The Bulge)

The Apollo 8 mission was followed up with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 13: (2nd L  R) Apollo 8 Crew Members Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders chat with Journalist in Residence at the Newseum Nick Clooney (L) during a live taping of a NASA TV program at the Newseum November 13, 2008 in Washington, DC. The former astronauts participated in a discussion on the December 1968 lunar orbital mission and how the success of Apollo 8 contributed to the overall moon landing effort that culminated just six months later with Apollo 11 and to commemorate NASA's 50th anniversary. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Apollo 8 Crew Members Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders chat with Journalist in Residence at the Newseum Nick Clooney at the Newseum on Nov. 13, 2008 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Apollo 8 team is all still living: Borman and Lovell are 90 and Anders is 85.

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