Forty-five years ago this week an extraordinary event in history happened: Humans, for the first time, in the persons of Americans Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, orbited and saw, within 60 miles, another heavenly body. Their Apollo 8 mission earned them Time's "Person of the Year" acclamation and historians have said their flight "Saved 1968," regarded as the most tumultuous and worst year — with its assassinations, riots, war, protests and crime — in American history. The flight was almost a shot in the dark. The U.S. and Soviet Union, in a titanic cold war, were engaged in an epic Space Race to prove superiority in an era when serious people were not sure which course human history would take — freedom and democracy or servitude and communism. The Space Race was the propaganda campaign of all propaganda campaigns. The winning side would show the world which system their countries' futures would best serve.
The crew of what would become Apollo 9 had the original Apollo 8 mission. It was to be a test flight of the Lunar Lander in Earth orbit. But two things happened: The contractor, Grumman, did not have the "LEM" ready and CIA photos revealed the Soviets gearing up with a massive moon ship capable of taking its cosmonauts to the Lunar surface. NASA could delay the LEM test flight and keep its flight schedule in order (and risk a Soviet leap frog and victory) or change the mission of Apollo 9 (another LEM test), put its crew aboard the previously unused-with-men mega Saturn 5 rocket, move it into the Apollo 8 launch slot and shoot it toward the moon. NASA rolled the dice and won. Among other things, the mission produced the iconic Earthrise photo, considered the most significant photo of all time, the first time the Earth's image was captured as an alien planet, beautifully blue, white and green against space's black curtain.
America beat the Soviet Union to the moon, followed six months later with an actual landing and That's one small step . . . . The rest is history. We conquered the moon and freedom loving people conquered communism 20 years later. The writing had been on the wall since December 1968.
Christmas Eve 1968: God's handiwork captured by His human creations.
But the flight wasn't the extraordinary aspect I meant. It was what was said on the mission as hundreds of millions of people on Earth watched the first ever live video transmission of the moon. On Christmas Eve, the celebration of the birth of the new Adam, of God made man, of the Word Incarnate — Borman, Lovell and Anders took turns reciting His word about His creation, as recorded in the Book of Genesis . . .
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth . . .
Immortal words further heightened during a seminal event, as God's creation was brought to His children up close and personal. Borman concluded, poetically . . .
Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God Bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.
Imagine that. U.S. Government employees on international television, in an age when getting along and peace went begging, used words you can't even hear in a department store today because they are "divisive." Yet, it was those words that helped bring peace to the world. Surprising, perhaps, only to non believers.
Almost immediately, the Left went nuts and the ACLU went into overdrive. We may be the same planet but it was a different world then. Their protests were ignored. That was only 45 years ago. Could American astronauts, or anyone on a high profile American project, utter anything like that today? Are you kidding? We are not better off for this change, either.
Perhaps coincidentally, or maybe by divine intervention, 45 years later, almost to the week, Time named someone else "Person of the Year" who also believes that we and all else are created by God — Pope Francis. Could this be the beginning of an echo of the revolution that freed hundreds of millions from communism, the beginning of a revolution that will free us from the binds of the Dictatorship of Relativism (as Pope Benedict the XVI coined the cultural rot wrought by secularism)? Could it be the renewal of a period, that ended only 45 years ago, that lives traditional values based on the dignity of respecting all of His creations?
Re-live, or experience for the first time, the Apollo 8 telecast and reading from Genesis.
For the fun of it, here's a brief video released this week celebrating Apollo 8 and explaining how the historic Earthrise photo happened to be taken. It puts you pretty much in the spacecraft thanks to NASA technology. For still more, click here for an article from NPR.org's The Two Way blog and a short interview with Space Race historian Andrew Chaiken.