At 7:51 am Eastern Standard Time USA December 21, 1968 Apollo 8 with its three crewmembers, Commander Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, command module pilot, and William A. Anders, lunar module pilot, left Launch Pad 39A on a Saturn V AS-503 for the moon. Their journey was the first attempt by humans to leave earth’s orbit for another stellar body.
On earth the year had been filled with tragedies. The USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea and political turmoil followed. The Tet Offensive wakened the American public to the fact that Vietnam was a war, not a conflict or police action.
The US Casualty List rolled out like a bad drum roll in high school—so many men killed and wounded. Anti-war protests increased in vigor, especially among college students.
President Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-election. In addition, he promised to limit the war.
On April 4 Doctor Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis. Riots broke out in many cities.
Peace talks between the US and North Vietnam began in Paris. Unfortunately, they would not be fruitful for some time to come.
Thousands of students revolted in France in what would become known as “Bloody Monday”. Millions of French workers would strike, but President Charles de Gaulle would squash the upheavals with the military.
On June 5 Senator Robert Kennedy was shot as he left a presidential campaign rally in Los Angeles. He would die the next day leaving many of his young supporters hopelessly disillusioned with their country, and the Kennedy Family with another murdered son.
In Czechoslovakia Ludvik Vaculik issued his essay, “Two Thousand Words,” which the Soviet Union regime would view as a direct threat to their control of the Soviet Bloc. In a matter of weeks there would be a Soviet response, moving the world closer to another world war.
Richard Nixon would become the Republican nominee for president. The Republican Convention in Miami was very peaceful.
Before the Democratic Convention in Chicago the Soviet military invaded Czechoslovakia. This ended for now the hopes of freedom, but as history has shown, once tasted, freedom is difficult to bury by force.
At the Convention, the Chicago police engaged the peace demonstrators. The confrontation turned very violent.
“As the delegates jammed into Chicago’s downtown hotels, thousands of young demonstrators moved into Lincoln Park. Attempts to get city permits to spend nights in the park had failed. So each night, police moved in, sometimes using tear gas and physical force to clear them out. At first, the news media focused on events at the Amphitheatre, where tempers flared during debate on the Vietnam War. CBS newsmen Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were roughed up on camera by security guards, causing anchor Walter Cronkite to intone to a national audience, “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, if I may be permitted to say so.” http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-chicagodays-democraticconvention-story,0,7359012.story
“The clashes reached a pinnacle on Wednesday, Aug. 28. TV cameramen in the Conrad Hilton Hotel (the former Stevens Hotel) turned their cameras down on the crowd, which chanted “The whole world’s watching.” Someone threw a beer can. Police charged and dragged off protesters, beating them with clubs and fists. “Many convention visitors . . . were appalled at what they considered unnatural enthusiasm of police for the job of arresting demonstrators,” the Tribune reported the next day. It would later be called a “police riot.” That night in his speech nominating George McGovern, Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff criticized the “Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.” Television cameras zoomed in on an enraged Daley, shouting back at the rostrum.”
Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was chosen as the party’s nominee. For the young, who had rallied around Robert Kennedy, the choice of an old party stalwart and the brutal treatment of the Chicago protestors was a defining moment for them—their voices were not to be heard.
Tlatelolco Square in Mexico City became the scene of another student protest which was met with deadly force. Thousands of university students gathered in the city to protest civil liberty violations by President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s Administration. What happened there is still a source of controversy.
Ten days later the Summer Olympics opened in Mexico City. A number of African nations chose not to send their athletes because of South Africa’s apartheid policies.
Richard Nixon defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey in a very close race. The independent run of Governor George Wallace hurt Humphrey. US history would have been different if Humphrey had won.
These and a thousand-and-one-plus events happened on this planet traversing the cosmos before December 21. This was the state of global affairs as the three men of Apollo 8 headed to the Moon in a metal shaped capsule.
From the Moon they would witness and capture Earthrise. This beautiful image of the Earth hanging in infinite space is still as captivating today as it was in December 1968.
From the Moon the Earth is a lovely oval sphere. It would convey to any stellar traveller an inviting world of oceans and teeming life, until they landed.
On the evening of December 24 the three astronauts, inspired by their cosmic view, would share with a listening earth the first chapter of Genesis. These voices from the heavens simply and eloquently read the chapter and closed with these words from lunar orbit,
“Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”
G. D. Williams © 2013
NASA: Earthrise: The 45th Anniversary
Apollo 8 Genesis Reading
Apollo 8 Christmas at The Moon Documentary
The mission objectives for Apollo 8 included a coordinated performance of the crew, the command and service module, or CSM, and the support facilities. The mission also was to demonstrate trans-lunar injection; CSM navigation, communications and midcourse corrections; consumable assessment; and passive thermal control. The detailed test objectives were to refine the systems and procedures relating to future lunar operations…
The Two Thousand Words
“There has been great alarm recently over the possibility that foreign forces will intervene in our development. Whatever superior forces may face us, all we can do is stick to our own positions, behave decently, and initiate nothing ourselves. We can show our government that we will stand by it, with weapons if need be, if it will do what we give it a mandate to do. And we can assure our allies that we will observe our treaties of alliance, friendship, and trade. Irritable reproaches and ill-argued suspicions on our part can only make things harder for our government, and bring no benefit to ourselves. In any case, the only way we can achieve equality is to improve our domestic situation and carry the process of renewal far enough to someday elect statesmen with sufficient courage, honor, and political acumen to create such equality and keep it that way. But this is a problem that faces all governments of small countries everywhere.”
The Tlatelolco Massacre, also known as The Night of Tlatelolco (from a book title by the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska), took place on the afternoon and night of October 2, 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City, ten days before the 1968 Summer Olympics celebrations in Mexico City, when the military and armed men shot student demonstrators. The death toll remains controversial: some estimates place the number of deaths in the thousands, but most sources report between 200 and 300 deaths. The exact number of people who were arrested is also controversial.
Summer Olympics 1968
1968 Presidential Race