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Christmas and Genesis connected by Apollo 8 Astronauts

NASA tells them to “say something appropriate”—and they do!


“For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.”

Apollo 8 crew is photographed posing on a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) simulator in their space suits. From left to right are: James A. Lovell Jr., William A. Anders, and Frank Borman.

So began the transmission from the Apollo 8 Command Module, in orbit around the moon, on 24 December 1968. Fifty years ago today!

It had been a pretty momentous year. It started on a positive note with the election of a reformist Communist leader in Czechoslovakia. This led to the ‘Prague Spring’, which seemed to foretell a loosening of Communist hegemony in eastern Europe. But things went downhill from there and in August, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the North Koreans boarded a US intelligence vessel, the USS Pueblo. The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Students around the world violently protested the Vietnam war. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Protesters had a pitched battle with police in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Then in the Fall, there was a Black Power demonstration during the playing of the American national anthem as part of medal ceremonies at the Mexico Olympics. And finally, the election of Richard Nixon as President, which eventually led to the Watergate Scandal and Nixon’s resignation as President in 1974. Like I say—momentous!

In the background, the US space program—Apollo—dedicated to achieving the goal established by President John F. Kennedy of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”, was, finally, back in full flight—literally. After a disastrous cabin fire killed the 3-man crew of Apollo 1 on the launchpad in Feb 1967, manned flights were suspended until October 1968 when Apollo 7 orbited the Earth and provided the first, live, public television broadcast from a manned mission.

Apollo 8 was planned to go into lunar orbit just two months later on December 24—Christmas Eve. A decision was made to take a tv camera and do a live, publicly broadcast transmission upon successful achievement of the orbit. Although lunar orbit insertion had been accomplished previously with unmanned spacecraft (basically to reconnoitre possible Apollo landing sites), this would obviously be the first time this would be attempted with people on board. Even a small miscue could have had horrific results.

Taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, at mission time 075:49:07 (16:40 UTC), while in orbit around the Moon, showing the Earth ‘rising’ for the third time above the lunar horizon. Note: The Earth isn’t actually ‘rising’. This effect is due to the motion of the Apollo spacecraft as it orbits the moon and emerges from behind the moon, from where the Earth is hidden from view by the moon, to a position where the Earth can be seen by the astronauts.

As reported by PBS1, assuming success, the instructions from NASA to the Apollo 8 crew for the broadcast were to “say something appropriate”.

Here is the transcript of what they said.

William Anders:

United States Post Office DepartmentApollo8-stamp
United States postage stamp (Scott #1371) celebrating Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit the Moon. Design is based on a photograph taken by the astronauts.

“For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send 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.”

Jim Lovell:

“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.”

Frank Borman:

“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.”

Borman then added, “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.”2

(Anders was the Lunar Module pilot (even though there was no Lunar Module on this mission), Lovell was the Command Module pilot and Borman was the mission commander.)

You can watch a NASA video of the transmission here. While the words by themselves are certainly moving, hearing these three obviously intelligent, university-educated and highly accomplished men, clearly and unhesitatingly proclaim them, while the lunar landscape is seen through the window of the spacecraft, is truly inspiring. Having the year end on this very positive note with the pioneering Apollo 8 mission and its profoundly positive message greatly lifted the spirits of a nation—and a world—in turmoil.

How superbly the astronauts had achieved the directive to “say something appropriate”!

However, the idea was not their own. As they struggled to find “something appropriate”, Borman asked a friend what he thought. This friend talked about it with a reporter friend of his, who mentioned it to his wife, who said, “Well, why don't they just read from the book of Genesis?”—and that is what they did, with the words typed on a page of the flight plan—on fireproof paper, no less.2 Clearly, this woman and these astronauts, the latter from their vantage point in the Command Module, understood the reality of Romans 1:20.

Sadly, not everyone considered these words appropriate. True to form, a prominent atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, sued the US Government, claiming infringement of the First Amendment.3 The case was dismissed, both initially and on appeal.4

How things have changed in just 50 years!

Now, a former, latter-day astronaut, Julie Payette, shortly after being appointed as Canada’s Governor General, in an official speech, mocked those holding the beliefs contained in the words read by these pioneering astronauts when she said, “We are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”5 Atheists routinely and successfully use the court and governments to prohibit mention—especially in schools—of the truths embodied in Genesis. And accomplished scientists, who unarguably contribute to the well-being of society are denied legitimate recognition because of their beliefs in these truths.

It’s as if we are having a reprise of the time before the Flood when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”, (Genesis 6:5) or when “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25)

And yet, God’s love for us abounds. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

It is the arrival of this gift that Christians celebrate at Christmas.

“And while they were there [Bethlehem], the time came for her [Mary] to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6–7)

“And the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11)

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13–14)

“And the shepherds returned [after seeing Jesus in the manger], glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)

And from the crew of CMI, we close with good night, good health, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.

First published: 24 December 2018
Re-featured on homepage: 25 December 2018

References and notes

  1. Telecasts from Apollo 8, pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/moon-telecasts-apollo-8/, accessed 2018/11/26 Return to text.
  2. The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Broadcast, nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo8_xmas.html, accessed 2018/11/26) Return to text.
  3. The text of the First Amendment is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment, accessed 2018/11/26. O’Hair’s argument was based on the “establishment” clause. Return to text.
  4. O'HAIR v. PAINE, 397 U.S. 531 (1970), supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/397/531/, accessed 2018/11/26 Return to text.
  5. Julie Payette dares to be interesting with comments on climate, astrology, and divine intervention, cbc.ca/news/politics/julie-payette-climate-divine-intervention-analysis-wherry-1.4383734, accessed 2018/11/26 Return to text.