Apollo 8 was the second manned flight of the Apollo
Project, the first manned flight to orbit the Moon, and the first
manned launch of the Saturn V rocket.
Originally intended as simply an Earth-orbit test mission, Apollo 8 evolved
into an ambitious circumlunar flight at a time when rumors suggested a possible
Soviet attempt at a manned orbit of the Moon (see Russian
manned lunar programs).
The three astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first human beings to achieve
Earth escape velocity and the first to see in person both the farside of
the Moon and the whole of our planet from space. During 10 lunar orbits,
the crew took star sightings to pinpoint landmarks, surveyed landing sites,
took still and motion pictures, and made two TV transmissions in the course
of one of which, on Christmas Eve, passages were read from the Book of Genesis.
At 1:10 a.m. EST on Christmas Day 1968, while on the Moon's farside, the
Service Module's main engine was fired to take the spacecraft out of lunar
orbit. As the crew began its return to Earth, James Lovell remarked, "Please be informed ... there is a Santa Claus." Apollo 8 achieved
another first when it splashed down in darkness.
A lunar module was not carried on Apollo 8 but a Lunar Test Article which
is equivalent in weight to a lunar module was carried as ballast.