Forty three years ago today, on December 24, 1968, I was a little more than 10 months old. On that day, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders became the first human beings to orbit the Moon. Until that point, no one had ever traveled so far from the Earth.
The two most-famous parts of the Apollo 8 mission were Anders’ photograph of Earthrise, the first time such an event had ever been seen by anyone, and what the astronauts did on Christmas Eve.
1968 had been a pretty horrible year. The Tet Offensive in January brought the Vietnam War into American households in such a way that Walter Cronkite, the most-trusted man in America, declared the war unwinnable.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson said that if he lost Cronkite, he had lost America. And in March, Johnson said he wouldn’t seek re-election, something that for a sitting President was almost unthinkable.
Then there were the assassinations. Martin Luther King Jr., in April, and Robert F. Kennedy, in June. The Democrats went to Chicago for their convention, and Mayor Richard Daley turned his cops on the protestors that met them there. And in November, Richard Nixon made one the most-amazing political comebacks in American history when he was elected the nation’s 37th President.
So, it was against this line of bad times that Apollo 8 headed for the Moon, with the mission meant to be a precursor to the first manned landing the following summer.
On Christmas Eve, Borman, Lovell and Anders were scheduled to do a live television broadcast from the Moon. They tried to come up with something appropriate to say for the occasion.
What they decided upon became known as the Genesis Reading. For the people watching 250,000 miles away back on Earth, this is what they heard and saw.
The audio and video quality aren’t what we are used to today. Here is the transcript of what the astronauts said.
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth.
And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
I’m not the most-religious person in the world, but I do believe. And watching this video and reading the words of Anders, Lovell and Borman makes my eyes well up because of…something that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s something real.
Maybe it’s because of my two daughters, Maddo and Little Sis. Maddo turned 3 yesterday, on December 22. And on every Christmas Eve since she was born, even when she was just two days old, I have read the Genesis Story to her. I began including Little Sis last year, on her first Christmas Eve. I doubt they get it now, but I do.
And as long as I do, I will keep reading it to them. Once a year. On Christmas Eve.