Join Donate

Apollo 8

The first human visit to lunar orbit

Distance traveled
932,787 km
Launch Date
21 Dec 1968
Landing Date
27 Dec 1968
Destination
Lunar orbit

With Apollo 8, humans broke free of Earth orbit for the first time. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders became the first humans in space to lose sight of their home world and gaze upon the lunar farside. Later, they witnessed Earth rising above the lunar surface, snapping the Earthrise photo that marked a profound shift in human perspective. The mission demonstrated astronauts could ride the Saturn V rocket to space, enter and depart from lunar orbit, and return safely to Earth, all crucial milestones toward the 1969 Moon landing.

Liftoff of Apollo 8

NASA

Liftoff of Apollo 8

On the morning of 21 Dec 1968, Borman, Lovell and Anders blasted off from Kennedy Space Center.

"After the vehicle was released, the noise in the cockpit got very loud," Borman recalled later of the mighty Saturn V. "Effective crew communication was impossible. The last call that I heard was a faint 'tower clear' call by the LOM (Launch Operations Manager)."

Despite the noise, the crew reported a smooth flight, and just twelve minutes later, Apollo 8 was safely orbiting the Earth. During the second orbit, the rocket’s third stage ignited again, blasting humans out of Earth orbit and on to the Moon for the very first time.

Apollo 8 crew

NASA

Apollo 8 crew
The crew of Apollo 8 stands in front of the Apollo Mission Simulator at Kennedy Space Center. From left: Jim Lovell, William Anders, Frank Borman.

On 24 December, the crew passed behind the Moon and fired the service module's engines for four minutes, injecting them into lunar orbit. Another burn at the end of the second orbit placed the spacecraft into a circular orbit, 113 kilometers above the surface. On the fourth orbit, as the crew rolled their spacecraft to take panoramic photographs of the surface — including potential landing sites — Anders noticed the Earth rising above the horizon.

"Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there!” Anders said. “Here's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!"

Anders snapped a monochrome picture of the Earthrise, while Lovell scrambled for a color film magazine. Anders then took two more color shots, the first of which became one of the most famous images of all time.

Earthrise

NASA / Seán Doran

Earthrise
When Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell rounded the farside of the Moon, they became the first humans to witness an Earthrise above an alien surface. The iconic image was first published on 30 December 1968.

After a total of 10 orbits and 20 hours around the Moon, the crew fired their service module engine for 3 minutes, putting Apollo 8 on course for home. Splashdown occurred on 27 December in the Pacific Ocean.

Apollo 8 Crew and Command Module Recovery

NASA

Apollo 8 Crew and Command Module Recovery
The recovered Apollo 8 Crew and Command Module (CM)-103 Spacecraft onboard the USS Yorktown.

Apollo 8 Timeline

EventTime (UTC)Date
Terminal countdown started 1:51:00 20 Dec 1968
Crew ingress 9:58:00 21 Dec 1968
Liftoff 12:51:00 21 Dec 1968
First stage (S-IC) separation 12:53:34 21 Dec 1968
Second stage (S-II) separation 12:59:44 21 Dec 1968
Third stage (S-IVB) cutoff 13:02:25 21 Dec 1968
Earth orbit insertion 13:02:35 21 Dec 1968
Third stage (S-IVB) TLI burn ignition 15:41:37 21 Dec 1968
Third stage (S-IVB) TLI burn cutoff 15:46:55 21 Dec 1968
Translunar injection 15:47:05 21 Dec 1968
CSM separation from third stage (S-IVB) 16:11:59 21 Dec 1968
Equigravisphere 20:29:00 23 Dec 1968
Midcourse correction ignition 1:50:55 24 Dec 1968
Midcourse correction cutoff 1:51:07 24 Dec 1968
Final call from Houston as Apollo 8 goes behind the Moon 9:48:54 24 Dec 1968
Lunar orbit insertion ignition 9:59:20 24 Dec 1968
Lunar orbit insertion cutoff 10:03:27 24 Dec 1968
First call from Houston as Apollo 8 emerges from behind the Moon 10:24:44 24 Dec 1968
Lunar orbit circularization ignition 14:26:06 24 Dec 1968
Lunar orbit circularization cutoff 14:26:16 24 Dec 1968
4th television transmission started (crew reads from the Bible) 2:34:03 25 Dec 1968
Transearth injection ignition 6:10:16 25 Dec 1968
Transearth injection cutoff 6:13:40 25 Dec 1968
Midcourse correction ignition 20:51:00 25 Dec 1968
Midcourse correction cutoff 20:51:15 25 Dec 1968
CM/SM separation 15:19:48 27 Dec 1968
Entry interface 15:37:12 27 Dec 1968
Drogue parachute deployed 15:45:47 27 Dec 1968
Main parachute deployed 15:46:38 27 Dec 1968
Splashdown 15:51:42 27 Dec 1968
Crew aboard recovery helicopter 17:14:00 27 Dec 1968
Crew aboard recovery ship (USS Yorktown) 17:20:00 27 Dec 1968

“The vast loneliness up here of the Moon is awe inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”
- Jim Lovell, Apollo 8

Resources

Please accept marketing-cookies to listen to this podcast.

For updates on Planetary Society news and activities, be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter, The Planetary Post.

Subscribe
Apollo 8 crew after recovery