As with any book about the space race, Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything begins with President John F. Kennedy's famous speech on May 25, 1961, challenging America to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's.
The Americans seemed to be well behind the Soviets who had not only launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, but also sent Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth, the first human to do so. In 1961, communism seemed to be on the rise in every part of the world: a new communist government had been established in Cuba, half of the city of Berlin had just been taken over by communists and the civil war in Vietnam was about to intensify.
In the 1960s, the space program in the U.S. continued to work towards its goal of putting a man on the moon. Each mission built upon the next, each previous one offering lessons. In 1968, Apollo 8 was set to launch on December 21 and this mission would be another step in that goal, testing the lunar module. But the objective of the mission was drastically altered and escalated when NASA learned from the CIA that the Soviets had a rocket capable of carrying two men to the moon and that it was being moved into launch position. Although the Soviets would not able to land on the Moon, a successful mission to the Moon would mean they would be able to say they were first to the Moon.
George Low, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program knew he had to act. Low came up with the plan to send Apollo 8, sans lunar lander to the Moon, to test communications and navigation systems. Low knew he would have to sell this to the head of the Apollo project, Christopher Kraft, but in the end he succeeded. Not only was getting to the Moon first an important technological achievement but in terms of the space race it was important too. One of the main objectives of the space race was to prove that American capitalism was more successful than Soviet communism.
All three Apollo 8 astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were on board with the revised mission objectives. Eventually NASA's Administrator, James E Webb also gave the go-ahead for the revised mission that would see Apollo 8 head to the moon and return to Earth. This decision meant enormous changes to the mission; a new flight plan and retraining the astronauts, in particular Bill Anders who was to pilot the lunar module but now had to train for the command and service modules. Anders was also responsible for "surveying the lunar surface for future landing sites."
What follows is the thrilling account of Apollo 8's remarkable journey from liftoff atop the Saturn V rocket to the Moon and back. Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything tells the story of how NASA scientists and the Apollo 8 astronauts came together, took enormous risks to make a daring mission an outstanding success.
Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything tells the story of the remarkable mission that was rejigged in order to put America ahead of the Soviets in the space race. Sandler begins by setting the stage for the events of Apollo 8 - the famous speech by Kennedy. However, the original objectives of the Apollo 8 mission were drastically altered when new intelligence revealed the Soviet Union's potential ability to travel to the Moon. From this point on Sandler focuses on the changes to the Apollo mission and the enormous risks the Apollo 8 astronauts were being asked to undertake.
These risks included creating new flight plan and using the largest rocket in the world that remained largely untested. Then there was the difficulty of both placing the spacecraft on trajectory to intersect the Moon as well as achieving lunar orbit. NASA flight director Gene Kranz likened the first to "threading the needle, shooting a spacecraft from a rotating Earth at the leading edge of the Moon, a moving target a quarter of a million miles away." The enormous distance between the Earth and Moon meant that should anything go wrong, the trip back was three days. The astronauts also needed to perform an SPS burn to put them into orbit around the moon and a third burn to push them out of lunar orbit and back to Earth. On their return to Earth they also needed to accomplish reentry exactly. If the spacecraft's reentry was too steep, the gravitational forces on the astronauts as well as temperatures on the craft's heat shield would be extreme. A too shallow reentry would mean the risk of the spacecraft "bouncing off" the atmosphere causing it to "soar into a huge elliptical orbit around the earth."
|Earthrise taken by Bill Anders|
Apollo 8 captures the astronaut's reactions to the incredible experiences of seeing Earth diminish as they travelled towards the Moon, recording the Earth rise on the Moon's horizon and seeing the dark side of the Moon for the first time. All three astronauts were deeply affected by these sights. What struck them was the Earth's fragility. Anders' colour photograph titled Earthrise made different impressions on each of the astronauts. For Lovell, it "became a symbol of the Earth's fragility, a reminder of just how small and insignificant the Earth's place in the universe truly is..." This impression was not unique to just Lovell, but to the millions and millions of people on Earth who watch the broadcasts from Apollo 8 and who saw this photograph.
Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything is a fascinating account of a mission that changed the space race and gave the American's the technical advantage to successfully land on the Moon a mere seven months later. Sandler includes plenty of photographs, a detailed section containing Source Notes, a Bibliography, short profiles of the Apollo 8 astronauts after the mission and an Index. A great book for anyone interested in accounts of the space race and the Apollo missions.
Earthrise image: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap181224.html
Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler
Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press 2018