A moon Christmas story: Apollo 8 astronauts shared Christmas Eve message while orbiting the moon

NASA gave the Apollo 8 crew creative freedom to choose what to say on Christmas Eve but told them "to do something appropriate." The broadcast from lunar orbit was seen or heard by 1 out of 4 people on Earth.

It was the night before Christmas in 1968 when the Apollo 8 astronauts beamed back a message for "the good Earth" while circling the moon.

NASA Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first to orbit the moon on Dec. 24, 1968.

With the pressure mounting under President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for a moon landing and the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire, NASA made bold changes to Apollo 8, pressing ahead with a human lunar orbiting mission.

The decision sent the crew to the moon and back without a lunar module on the first human spaceflight of the Saturn V rocket and with a single engine on the capsule to bring them back home. 

After launching on Dec. 21, 1968, Borman, Lovell and Anders arrived in lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, orbiting the lunar surface 10 times.

When the crew emerged from behind the moon on the first orbit, the Apollo 8 astronauts shared images of the moon and Earth, including the view of Earthrise more than 240,000 miles away. The image of Earth with the moon below became one of the most well-known images of the Apollo era, according to NASA. 

Fast-forward more than 50 years to December 2022, and NASA's Orion spacecraft, designed to carry the next humans to the moon, also shared a similar view of Earthrise. 

NASA managers had told the Apollo 8 astronauts to prepare to share some words with the world that would be broadcast around the globe. The crew was given the creative freedom to choose what to say but were told "to do something appropriate," Borman said in a 2008 interview.

With that in mind, they chose to read the first 10 verses of the Book of Genesis.

Lovell said years later, the message was chosen because of its universal meaning.


"The first ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world's religions, not just the Christian religion," Lovell said in 2008. "There are more people in other religions than the Christian religion around the world, and so this would be appropriate to that, and so that's how it came to pass."

As the Apollo 8 capsule orbited the moon more than 240,000 miles from Earth, each astronaut took turns reading verses.

"From the crew of Apollo 8, we close with goodnight, good luck, a merry Christmas, and god bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

The broadcast was seen or heard by 1 out of 4 people on Earth. 

The message from the moon would be the last before the astronauts attempted to return to Earth, and mission control waited to learn if Apollo 8’s engine burn to leave moon orbit worked. 

After the successful engine burn, Lovell told mission control, "Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus."

The Apollo 8 capsule splashed down on Dec. 27, 1968, in the Pacific Ocean.