Apollo 8, the second manned mission in the United States Apollo space program, was launched on December 21, 1968, and became the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth's Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew—Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders—became the first men to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, the first to directly see the far side of the Moon, and then the first to witness Earthrise. The 1968 mission, the third flight of the Saturn V rocket and that rocket's first manned launch, was also the first manned launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The mission was originally planned as Apollo 9, to be performed in early 1969 as the second test of the complete Apollo spacecraft, including the Lunar Module and the Command/Service Module in an elliptical medium Earth orbit. But when the Lunar Module proved unready to make its first test in a lower Earth orbit in December 1968, it was decided in August to fly Apollo 8 in December as a more ambitious lunar orbital flight without the Lunar Module. This meant Borman's crew was scheduled to fly two to three months sooner than originally planned, leaving them a shorter time for training and preparation, thus placing more demands than usual on their time and discipline.
Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. It orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast where they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo 8's successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. The Apollo 8 astronauts returned to Earth on December 27, 1968, when their spacecraft splashed down in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The crew was named Time magazine's "Men of the Year" for 1968 upon their return....LESS