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"Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders sped toward the moon and into history Saturday night in a spaceflight which electrified the world and broke mankind's gravitational bonds with earth for the first time...."

So read the first paragraph of a United Press International story on Dec. 22, 1968, as the world watched the Apollo program take flight. The 50th anniversary of that milestone is being celebrated all year at NASA and elsewhere, and is being commemorated with a special section in today's Herald & Review.

"'The sun is very bright and the earth is very bright,' they radioed from 50,000 miles into space," the UPI reporter wrote. "'The moon ... is a very slim crescent, but it's very visible. ...'

"Borman, Lovell and Anders rode the huge Saturn 5 rocket into space from Cape Kennedy, made two orbits around the earth, then re-ignited the Saturn's third stage and spiraled out of the earth orbit into thousands of miles into space.

"'I'm looking out my center window,' Lovell's voice came back crisply. 'It's a round window and it's bigger than the earth right now. I can see South America all the way up through North America. ... I can see all the way down to Cape Hope in Africa.'

The story stated that Lovell was surprised to look through a telescope and find a halo of light blue "sky" around the moon, but concluded the phenomenon was sunlight bouncing around inside his optical systems.

"'I'd like to personally thank you," Borman radioed to ground personnel a few minutes after a nearly perfect launch sent the huge rocket and spacecraft aloft from Cape Kennedy at 7:51 a.m. EST.

"At 10:42 a.m., he restarted the shutdown top stage of the rocket for the historic 'translunar injection' firing, which boosted Apollo 8's speed to more than 24,000 miles an hour.

"Within minutes, Apollo 8 was thousands of miles into space.

"By 10:30 p.m. EST, Apollo 8 was 78,000 miles from earth and 153,200 miles from the moon, heading toward the moon at 4,760 miles per hour. ...

"The astronauts zipped into their long, looping path to the moon at a speed which covered in a few minutes the distance to it took Charles Lindbergh 33 hours to travel in his 1927 TransAtlantic flight and Columbus 70 days to cover when he discovered America. ..."

Here are more facts and figures about the moon orbit flight (The Associated Press, Dec. 21, 1968):

  • Launch time: 6:51 a.m. CST
  • Flight duration: 6 days, 3 hours
  • Purpose: Fly 220,074 miles away from earth and orbit within 69 miles of the moon for 20 hours; 10 orbits. Pave the way for later astronauts to land on the moon.
  • Moon orbit time: from 5:02 a.m. Dec. 24 to 1:09 a.m. Dec. 25
  • Cost of mission: Saturn 5, $185 million; Apollo 8 spacecraft, $55 million; launch support, including recovery forces, $70 million. Total: $310 million.

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