Apollo 8's famous 'Earthrise' photo taken 50 years ago today

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As the turbulent year neared its end, millions of Americans watched an emotional broadcast of the Apollo 8 crew reading from the book of Genesis as the craft orbited the moon on Christmas Eve.

BORMAN: The only telegram I remember out of all the thousands we got after Apollo 8 was, it said, thank you, Apollo 8.

"NASA usually went step-by-step". And since Apollo 8's journey, only 21 other astronauts have seen what Borman, Lovell and Anders beheld up close, meaning that leafing through maps, globes and the pages of an atlas is the best way to hitch a ride with Apollo's chariot for the most of us.

On Christmas Eve, the spaceship successfully slipped into orbit around the moon.

By July 1969, Apollo 8 was overshadowed by Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin moon landing. The decision was thus made that Borman, Lovell and Anders crew, the crew of Apollo 8, would fly anyway with what they had - the Apollo orbiter alone - and take it to the place it was created to go in the first place: the moon.

Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders were the first humans to leave Earth's orbit, circumnavigating the moon 10 times.

The first manned Saturn V launch.

Engineers had to devise an inertial navigation system that worked for the Earth-to-moon trip, with corrections made by eyeballing the stars through a space sextant. First, they pointed out where humans would eventually land, displaying a lunar sunrise. "Inside Mission Control, no one moved".

Three happy Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman left William A. Anders center and James A. Lovell stroll across the deck of the USS Yorktown after their recovery from the Pacific Ocean Dec. 28 1968

LEWIS: It wasn't just the crew of Apollo 8 that reflected during the flight.

"I just wish I really had that moment to live over again", Collins says, "because I would have said to them, 'Apollo 8, you can now slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance the sky, Apollo 8".

The 1968 Apollo 8 mission was crucial in the race to get a man on the moon.

It wants to learn the skills and develop the technology to enable a future human landing on Mars.

"Oh my God, look at that picture over there! Wow, is that pretty!" Bill Anders, 85, said that he is a big supporter of the unmanned missions to the planet, but told BBC Radio Live 5 that there is no public support for an expensive manned mission. This was one of the dozens upon dozens of pictures taken in lunar orbit.

The iconic Earthrise shot put our pale blue dot in cosmic perspective as no previous picture could, and gave rise to a phenomenon known as the "Overview Effect": a deep feeling of connectedness, accompanied by the sense that protecting Earth should take priority over society's petty divisions. Anders said it forever changed the way people think about the Earth.

But in the decades that have followed, Apollo 8 has faded in the minds of many. It took almost three days for the crew to reach the moon, and after a tense four minute engine burn - which could have flung them into space or crashed them onto the Moon's surface -they successfully entered orbit. In January 1967, an errant electrical spark had triggered a flash fire that destroyed Apollo 1 during preflight testing, killing three astronauts. The picture Anders took in those fleeting moments became one of the most influential ones in history, credited both with helping to kick-start the environmental movement and with ending the exceedingly bloody year that was 1968 on a note of redemption. "Now, we have digital computers in everything", he explains.

Fifty years ago today, we hadn't set foot on the moon yet. "Musk and Bezos, they're talking about putting colonies on Mars, that's nonsense".

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