The Road to the Moon Landings – Apollo 8 – The Times, 1969

In the upcoming two weeks, Iconic Photos would cover the NASA missions to the other space and the Moon as they appeared in leading picture magazines of the time: Life, Epoca, Paris-Match, Look, Sunday Times, etc.

These documents are not just historical records: they are tributes to the bravery and ingenuity of the astronauts and engineers who took humanity’s first steps into the vastness of space. They celebrate a time when space was a new and dangerous frontier, and each mission captured the world’s imagination.

We are still staying with Apollo 8.

Fifty four years later, it is hard to miss its seismic impact. As LIFE noted, it capped an incredible year of news which were not always great: two political assassinations, the worsening situation in Vietnam, turmoil of college campuses and around the world, and the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia. Perhaps that was why the crew of Apollo 8 became Time magazine’s people of the year that December (more about that in the next post).

Accompanied by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke’s visionary epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which first came out in April and was then showing in cinemas round the globe (the crew also attended its Houston showing a few months earlier), it was the high watermark: the peak of public interest in human spaceflight. People saying the U.S. government should “do more” in space peaked in late 1968 (~30pc) but declined to ~20pc six months later, before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. In addition, the NASA budget also declining, from the peak year in 1966. It did not recover. Apollo 8’s success largely took the world by surprise. By the time Apollo 11 was launched, the world had already got used to the idea of manned lunar flight.

NASA had not intended to reach the Moon in 1968 yet and Apollo 8, like six missions before it, was slated merely to test equipment. But, that autumn, the CIA noted erroneously that the Soviet Union was preparing its own manned lunar mission (in September 1968, Zond 5 went around the moon with turtles aboard, which was taken as a precursor to a human mission, but unknown to the Americans, the Soviets were still quite far from that feat).

So Apollo 8 was fast-tracked, eventhough the lander to take men to the lunar surface was not ready yet; the previous year, three astronauts had perished in a fire in a very similar capsule, and Apollo 8 was far from a guarantee. Even the NASA top officials — Administrator James Webb and Associate Administrator for Human Spaceflight George Mueller — privately harbored doubts about this mad dash to the moon, Mueller noting “irresponsible scheduling”. Press conferences leading up the launch were dominated by questions about the risks. But just before the launch, the astronauts shared their final meal with the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife at Cape Kennedy. A torch had passed.

The first to produce Apollo 8 special issues in color in the United States were the major newspapers. The New York Times had Earthrise on its front page on December 30. The Times of London followed with a color supplement on January 4, not waiting for its weekend pictorial magazine.


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