Half a century ago today, a spaceship left earth to take astronauts not just beyond LEO, but all the way to and around the moon. That was when we won the race.
Bob Zimmerman reflects.
[Update Sunday morning]
More thoughts from John Wenz. This statement isn’t inaccurate, but it is a little misleading:
It was the first time humanity had orbited another body that wasn’t our home planet.
Yes, it was, but some have concluded from that fact that they weren’t orbiting earth. None of the Apollo missions left earth orbit, because they never reached escape velocity, and when you orbit a moon that is in orbit around a planet, you remain in orbit around that planet along with it. No human has ever left earth orbit, but Elon seems to have the most serious plans to do so.
One other point, unrelated to Wentz’s piece. I was looking at the Wikipedia page for the mission, and found this bit of (misleading, at best) history:
On August 9, 1968, Low discussed the idea with Gilruth, Flight Director Chris Kraft, and the Director of Flight Crew Operations, Donald Slayton. They then flew to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, where they met with KSC Director Kurt Debus, Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips, Rocco Petrone, and Wernher von Braun. Kraft considered the proposal feasible from a flight control standpoint; Debus and Petrone agreed that the next Saturn V, AS-503, could be made ready by December 1; and von Braun was confident that the pogo oscillation problems that had afflicted Apollo 6 had been fixed. Almost every senior manager at NASA agreed with this new mission, citing confidence in both the hardware and the personnel, along with the potential for a circumlunar flight providing a significant morale boost. The only person who needed some convincing was James E. Webb, the NASA administrator. Backed by the full support of his agency, Webb authorized the mission. Apollo 8 was officially changed from a “D” mission to a “C-Prime” lunar-orbit mission.
Webb may have authorized it in August, in the sense of changing the mission category, but this was probably to keep the option open, not because he supported doing it. I’m pretty sure he continued to oppose it, and it may be that one of the reasons for his retirement in October was to not have it happen on his watch (though he probably would have left anyway in the New Year, with the incoming administration of Nixon). Tom Paine (who did favor it), as Acting Administrator, actually made final approval in November, a few weeks before the flight.