On this day, 50 years ago, at 7:51 AM EST, a Saturn V rocket blasted off from Florida… from the Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A… thereby sending America’s Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders into Earth orbit. Upon completing a subsequent, 2 1/2 hour long, methodical checklist to confirm all systems go, Capcom (Capsule communicator) Michael Collins radioed the astronauts thusly…
“Apollo 8, you are Go for TLI.”
(TLI = Translunar Injection)
With each passing minute and mile during this three day / quarter of a million mile mission, these three brave men were taking the type of giant leap, which the late President John F. Kennedy had committed America to… i.e., they were further laying the groundwork for a lunar landing by the end of the 60s decade.
True, both the US / USSR space programs had started out as a thinly veiled extension of the coldhearted cold war… i.e, fierce international competition to simultaneously determine which superpower could reach the Moon first and thereby establish nuclear ICBM superiority.
However… American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts… also, unintentionally wound up transcending most politicians’ foolhardy posturing and knuckle-headed, knuckle dragging narrow-mindedness.
Indeed, as these missions literally soared into space, so did the human spirit. Our successes glowingly illustrating our innovativeness and resolve. Even our failures (inclusive of the death of astronauts / cosmonauts) heightened our awareness of the preciousness of life. The most telling aspect, by far, so far, was that for a fleeting moment in the annals of history we had become a unified people.
A couple of prime examples of this unification are rooted deeply within this very historical Apollo 8 flight… the Christmas Eve, Moon to Earth audio / video transmission of Borman, Lovell and Anders reading from the Book of Genesis while focusing their camera on lunar landscape images passing beneath them and  Anders’ eye opening, soul searching snapshot… what was to be later titled Earthrise.
While one half century’s worth of waning moon phases could never cause any waning of my own sense of unity… well… regrettably… not enough of us… who lived vicariously through our astronauts’ successes… remain.
As for those of us who have either forgotten or were born since that era… well… too many educators… restricted to George W. Bush, teach to the test, tactics… have not been able to adequately convey this feeling to energize young minds… well… that is… if/when NASA’s outer space glory days / achievements are even covered in the first place.
Indeed… what would any such “child left behind” ever know about any of that?
I’m not saying that our survival as a species, necessarily, wholly, depends upon America reviving its space program. What I am saying is that my homeland… indeed nations spanning our globe… must aspire to something greater… something more positive… oh… say… utilizing our scientific know-how to clean up our environment… to conquer discrimination, intellectual / nutritional starvation and other such human suffering.