44 years ago, December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Gorman took turns reading from Genesis Chapter 1,
as their spacecraft returned to earth, after from orbiting the moon 10 times. This was the first time in history that a manned spacecraft had orbited the moon.
It was during this mission that the astronauts took those memorable first pictures of an “earthrise,” the earth “rising” above the moon’s surface.
The spacecraft had actually gotten within 70 miles of the lunar surface.
I remember so clearly these events, as so many of you do, also. I remember hearing the astronauts reading from the Scriptures, to the entire world, as literally, everyone who had the means to do so, listened to God’s Word, from space. Being raised in a Christian home, I didn’t think anything unusual or “strange” about this event. I think, however, of how much our world has changed over these years since. I was a huge fan of space travel, as I think most of us were, who grew up during these early launches. I still get a thrill everytime I drive by the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, with its beautiful blue pryamid building and the life-size replica of a Mercury-Redstone rocket (replica of Shepard’s spacecraft) in front. We drove by this remarkable Center 2 times just last week! Growing up, I was also an avid stamp collector, so I was overjoyed when the U.S. Postal Service put the “earthrise” photograph on the stamp.
If you really want to think about how our world has changed, think about that stamp: The United States Postal Service, on the stamp, engraving, “In the beginning God …” Just take a moment, and think about that, in light of today. Wow! The “earthrise” picture, by the way, was taken on the 9th lunar orbit, and is still considered the most famous picture ever taken from space. I have several of these stamps, in mint condition, in my files. I just checked: This 6 cent stamp is on Ebay for 1.73 each.
Anyway, I wanted to find out more about how the Scripture reading came into “creation;” The story behind it. Here is the story from Frank Gorman’s Autobiograpy, entitled “Countdown, An Autobigraphy,” by Frank Borman with Robert J. Sterling/William Morrow, 1988. The book is still available through Amazon:
“There was one more impression we wanted to transmit: our feeling of closeness to the Creator of all things. This was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, and I handed Jim and Bill their lines from the Holy Scriptures.”
About six weeks before launch, a NASA official had called Borman. Noting that the crew would be circling the earth on Christmas Eve, he said, “We figure more people will be listening to your voice than that of any man in history. So we want you to say something appropriate.”
Without time to research the question himself, Borman appealed to his friend Si Bourgin, a NASA employee. Bourgin posed the question to Joe Laitin, formerly a United Press International reporter. Laitin’s suggestion pleased Borman. He had the words typed on fireproof paper. For the men, homesick for earth, the chosen words could hardly be more appropriate.
Bill Anders read Genesis 1:1-4.
Jim Lovell took the next four verses.
Frank Borman finished with, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven 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 he called Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
As the men completed the orbit, Lovell said, “I don’t know who your two friends were, but they sure hit the target.”
And, now, as an extra special treat, here is the transcript of “The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Broadcast,” from NASA National Space Science Data Center.Archived from the original on 19 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
Following the transcript, is a dirct link to take you to the actual video recording of the entire message, as recorded live on December 24, 1968. Enjoy:
The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Broadcast
Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts; Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders did a live television broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and Moon seen from Apollo 8. Lovell said, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Here is a direct link to this transcript, and the actual video: