Much like the shepherds during the first Christmas, people around the world had their attention turned toward the heavens 50 years ago, when the astronauts of Apollo 8 delivered their famous Christmas Eve broadcast from lunar orbit.
It had been a difficult year — from the North Vietnamese Tet offensive in Vietnam, where the war entered it’s fifth year, to the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, to riots in cities all across the United States, all summer long.
But on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968, Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit entered lunar orbit with a message of hope.
Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to orbit the moon, and the first astronauts to spend Christmas in space.
To mark the occasion, they sent Christmas greetings and live images of the moon back to their home planet and read from Genesis. It was estimated that as many as one billion people watched the historic broadcast or listened on the radio.
William Anders said, “For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 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 God divided the light from the darkness.”
Jim Lovell read next, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters, which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
Frank Borman read, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear:’ and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” Borman then added, “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.”