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Christmas Eve at the Moon: Apollo 8's Historic Message Beamed to Earth Today in 1968

The famous "Earthrise" photo was captured by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on Dec. 24, 1968.
The famous "Earthrise" photo was captured by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on Dec. 24, 1968.
(Image: © NASA)

Fifty-one years ago, the world got a Christmas Eve message from on high.

On Dec. 24, 1968, the astronauts of NASA's Apollo 8 mission beamed home gorgeous images of their home planet as seen from lunar orbit, read some verses from the book of Genesis and wished the people of Earth a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

"We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice," Apollo 8's Frank Borman said during 40th-anniversary celebrations in 2008, according to a NASA feature about the mission. "And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate."

Related: Apollo 8: NASA's First Crewed Trip Around the Moon in Pictures

That audience was indeed huge. About one-quarter of the world's population saw or heard the broadcast, current NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in a video published last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8.

Apollo 8 was a historic mission. Borman and fellow crewmates Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans ever to orbit a world beyond Earth. And Anders took one of the most famous photos of all time on that Christmas Eve — the iconic "Earthrise" image, which is widely credited with helping to spur the modern environmental movement.

Apollo 8 was also the first crewed flight of the huge Saturn V moon rocket, which launched the Apollo 11 crew on their epic mission to the lunar surface in July 1969. (The first crewed mission of the Apollo program, Apollo 7, launched to Earth orbit atop a Saturn IB in October 1968.)

Apollo 8 launched on Dec. 21, 1968 and splashed down here on Earth six days later. The crucial engine burn that rocketed the mission homeward from lunar orbit occurred a few hours after the famous Christmas Eve broadcast.

When contact with mission control was re-established on Christmas morning, Lovell broke the news of a successful burn by saying, "Please be informed: there is a Santa Claus."

"That's affirmative," Ken Mattingly, the capsule communicator at mission control who was on duty at the time, responded. "You're the best ones to know."

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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  • rod
    Admin said:
    On Dec. 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts beamed home gorgeous images of Earth as seen from lunar orbit, read some verses from the book of Genesis and wished folks around the world a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

    Christmas Eve at the Moon: Apollo 8's Historic Message Beamed to Earth Today in 1968 : Read more

    Brings back memories, I watched the broadcast live on TV. Also Apollo 11 landing. I celebrated the 50th year of Apollo 11 by viewing the Apollo 11 lunar landing area and craters with my telescope at 0330 :) There was quite a celebration on the Mall at DC too with the Washington Monument all lit up. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah folks. Just broke some Forum rules here :)
    Reply
  • roshancherry
    this has been a great X mas eve sight
    https://www.jumbograbs.com/collections/for-her/products/x-mas-suprise-ultimate-gift-package
    Reply
  • bcheerful
    ily
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/189JNVQgRBChUZt8wuAGEsgjwSnjC0Gg7/view?usp=sharing
    Reply