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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Spirit of Apollo - 50th Anniversary of Apollo 8 at the Washington National Cathedral

A monitor showing a portrait of the Apollo 8 crew is seen during the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Spirit of Apollo event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Apollo 8 was humanity's first journey to another world, taking astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders to the Moon and back in December of 1968. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, which was the first to bring humans to another world as they orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. To commemorate this historic event in human spaceflight and NASA’s history, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum presented “Spirit of Apollo,” a program celebrating the milestone Apollo 8 mission, which brought humanity together and pushed the limits of exploration.

The event took place at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Washington National Cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington.

The evening’s program included remarks by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Apollo 8 astronaut James Lovell, as well as Ellen Stofan, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum.

"In this cathedral, my world exists within these walls," said Lovell. "But seeing the Earth at 240,000 miles, my world suddenly expanded to infinity."

There also were remarks by leaders from the National Cathedral and Episcopal Church, including the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who discussed the spiritual meaning of exploration. 

"I wonder if when they saw it, and then later we saw it, and when they read from Genesis, if God kind of gave a cosmic smile. And I wonder if God said, "Now y'all see what I see,'" said Curry.

In addition, the program included video presentations and a choral performance recreating the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast, as well as a lighting of the National Cathedral and its space window.

At Christmastime a half-century ago, millions around the world paused to follow the flight of Apollo 8. For the first time, humans left Earth for a distant destination.

The mission was a key step toward meeting President John F. Kennedy's goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth" by the end of the decade.

In addition to gaining the first close-up views of the lunar surface, the cameras of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders also were focused back toward Earth.

While Borman maneuvered the Apollo spacecraft during the fourth lunar orbit, Anders was taking pictures of the surface. He then glanced at the Moon's horizon.

"Oh, my god, look at that picture over there," Anders said. "Here's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty."

No Apollo 8 photograph was more stunning than his image that has come to be known as "Earthrise."

Apollo 8 launched from Cape Kennedy on Dec. 21, 1968, placing astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders into a 114 by 118 mile parking orbit at 32.6 degrees.

During the 20-hour period in lunar orbit, the crew conducted a full, sleepless schedule of tasks including landmark and landing site tracking, vertical stereo photography, stereo navigation photography and sextant navigation.

Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 10:51 a.m. EST Dec. 27.

From October 2018 through December 2022, NASA is marking the 50th anniversary of the 11 Apollo missions that included landing a dozen Americans on the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972.

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