Forty-three years later, it may be hard for people who weren’t glued to their television sets on Christmas Eve, 1968, waiting for word of the Apollo 8 spacecraft and crew, to understand the tension we felt. Apollo 8 was the first time mankind had left Earth’s orbit, the ship lifting off just before 1 p.m., Eastern Time, on December 21st. After three days’ travel, the crew – Frank Borman, James Lovell (later to become famous as commander of Apollo 13), and William Anders – had reached the Moon and were in their first orbit. Once they flew around to the dark side, there was no radio contact, so millions of us waited. 1968 had begun with great promise, only to become the most tumultuous and depressing year for a long time before and after, so the thought of three American astronauts lost on the far side of the Moon, out of contact with Earth, was much too close.
I was sitting with my older sister in her basement. Her sons were asleep upstairs, and her husband was in Viet Nam. We stared at the television as Mission Control kept calling, “Apollo 8, Houston,” “Apollo 8, Houston.” My sister was whispering, “Come on, you guys!”
Then we heard, “Houston, this is Apollo 8,” and we literally cheered.
It was just what we needed after a long, difficult year.