Anders was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8. It was the first manned lunar orbit flight. It was also the first of three flights in preparation for the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing mission.
On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted off into the atmosphere. The second stage of the rocket fired, and boosted the spacecraft into Earth's orbit. The third stage fired, sending Apollo 8 on its precisely calculated 240,000-mile flight to the Moon.
The astronauts televised their expedition for viewers back home on Earth. As the spacecraft left the gravitational pull of Earth, it entered the Moon's gravitational influence. It was the first time man had ventured into the gravity field of another body in the solar system.
The crew of Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit on December 24, 1968. They orbited the Moon ten times in twenty-one hours. The astronauts radioed and televised views of the lunar surface to Earth, while conducting their assigned duties. At 4:49 a.m., on December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 curved behind the Moon.
Ten minutes later, another rocket fired, putting the spacecraft into lunar orbit. On the far side of the Moon, the crew and its spacecraft were out of tracking and communications range with Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas. It was not until twenty minutes later that Mission Control knew Apollo 8 was, in fact, in lunar orbit. During subsequent orbits, the crew could eat and take short rest periods.
The men aboard Apollo 8 were the first to see a lunar sunrise. In the book, We Reach the Moon © 1969, by John Noble Wilford, fellow astronaut Jim Lovell said that he saw the Earth as 'a grand oasis in the big vastness of space'.
On December 25, 1968, shortly after 1:00 a.m., Apollo 8's rocket fired, boosting the spacecraft out of lunar orbit, and onto its return flight to Earth. The return trip of the Apollo 8 spacecraft lasted two and one-half days. It splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 10:51 a.m., on December 27, 1968. NASA debriefed the crew for a total of eight days on the flight of Apollo 8.The flight of Apollo 8 accomplished what it intended to do.
The flight proved, among other things, that the navigational systems of the Apollo spacecraft met the challenge of lunar flight. The Apollo 8 mission also proved that astronauts could rely on the Service Module to fire with accuracy. The crew learned that the Sea of Tranquility was a safe place to land. The Sea of Tranquility was one of the possible landing sites NASA had planned to use for a manned lunar landing mission.
For their accomplishments, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Gold Medals to the astronauts of Apollo 8. New York held a dazzling ticker tape parade in honor of the Apollo 8 astronauts. The efforts of the crew of Apollo 8 paved the way for a safe manned lunar landing.