On Dec. 24, 1968, Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Jim Lovell were orbiting around the moon as part of the Apollo 8 mission. The lunar orbit was historic for several reasons and the astronauts delivered a Christmas Eve broadcast that was observed by millions.
The Apollo 8 mission marked the first time a manned spacecraft left Earth's orbit and the first a person orbited another celestial object. The iconic "Earthrise" photo was taken on Christmas Eve and the astronauts delivered a holiday broadcast that included a reading of Genesis from the moon. During the evening broadcast, the astronauts took turns reading verses from the first chapter of Genesis while beaming back images of the moon.
In 2008, Borman said he received no instructions as to what to broadcast other than "to do something appropriate," NASA reports. "We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice," Borman said.
Lovell said the astronauts chose the first chapter of Genesis as it held meaning for other religions around the world. "The first ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world's religions, not just the Christian religion," Lowell said during the 40th anniversary event.
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The broadcast ended with the holiday message, "Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you -- all of you on the good Earth."
Apollo 8's Christmas mission was unique as it was NASA's attempt to succeed in the challenge laid out by President John F. Kennedy to land on the moon by the end of the 1960's. According to NASA, the space agency was having issues developing a lunar module and sent Apollo 8 to the moon without one and the mission launched on Dec. 21. Apollo 8 was used to test the systems, technology and the ability to enter lunar orbit ahead of future mission. The mission exited lunar orbit on Christmas with Lovell confirming the succesful engine burn with the message, "Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus."
The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast, courtesy of NASA, can be viewed below.