APOLLO 8 (First Lunar Orbit Mission)

Launched: 21 December 1968 UT 12:51:00 (7:51:00 AM EST)
Lunar Orbit: 24 December 1968
Returned to Earth: 27 December 1968 UT 15:51:42 (10:51:42 AM EST)

The overall objective of the mission was to demonstrate command and service module performance in a cislunar (between the Earth and Moon) and lunar-orbit environment, to evaluate crew performance in a lunar-orbit mission, to demonstrate communications and tracking at lunar distances, and to return high-resolution photography of proposed Apollo landing areas and other locations of scientific interest. The Apollo 8 mission was the eighth in a series of flights using Apollo-specification hardware, the second manned flight of a block II spacecraft, and the first manned flight using a Saturn launch vehicle. The mission was also the first to the vicinity of the Moon and was the continuation of a program to develop manned lunar landing capability.

The space vehicle was launched at 7:51:00 a.m. EST on December 21, 1968, and was inserted into a 103 by 98 nautical mile parking orbit. The launch vehicle was a three-stage Saturn V and the spacecraft was a standard block II command and service module configuration. A lunar module test article was mounted in the spacecraft/launch vehicle adapter for mass loading purposes.


Frank Borman, commander
William A. Anders, lunar module pilot
James A. Lovell, command module pilot




The Apollo 8 spacecraft was similar in configuration to the Apollo 7 spacecraft. The most significant change was the replacement of the forward pressure and ablative hatches with the combined forward hatch, which was required for intravehicle transfer to the lunar module on later missions. Also, to provide more free space for activity, foldable crew couches were installed.


No formal scientific experiments were planned, but recommendations were solicited from scientists regarding tasks and observations that could be accomplished within the equipment and schedule constraints. Principal recommendations were for modifications to initial photographic plans and equipment.


Mission Event List and Timeline


    December 21    07:51:00 am
Earth orbit insertion
    08:32:35 am
Translunar injection
    10:41:37 am
Lunar orbit insertion
    December 24    04:59:20 am
Transearth injection
    December 25    01:10:16 am
    December 27    10:51:42 am

Midcourse Navigation
The intent of this objective was to demonstrate onboard star-Earth landmark optical navigation.

Mid-Course Correction

Landmark Tracking

The intent of this objective was to establish that an onboard capability existed to compute relative position data for a lunar landing mission.

Portions of these test objectives were not met. However, in the case of the Midcourse Navigation Test, the accuracy of other navigation modes was sufficient to preclude the necessity of using star-Earth landmarks for midcourse navigation. In the case of the Landmark Tracking Test, sufficient data were obtained to determine that no constraints existed for subsequent missions.


A Summary of Apollo 8 photographs is maintained here.


At the end of a year marked with racial and political murder in the US, as well as terrible loss in VietNam, on Christmas Eve, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 broadcast
this message:


Command module/service module separation was performed at 146:28:48, and subsequent command module entry occurred approximately 17 minutes later. The spacecraft followed a guided entry profile and landed in the Pacific Ocean at 8°8'N latitude and 165°1'W longitude. The crew were retrieved and were taken aboard the USS Yorktown at 17:20 GMT, and the spacecraft was taken aboard approximately 1 hour later.

The Apollo 8 mission took 7 days and included 10 orbits around the Moon. Almost without exception, spacecraft systems operated as intended. All temperatures varied in a predictable manner within acceptable limits, and consumables usage was always maintained at safe levels. Communications quality was exceptionally good, and live television was transmitted on six occasions. The crew superbly performed the planned mission.