As is fitting in an anniversary year, we have been looking back over the museum’s past 10 years in its current location. But not only that: we have also been looking back over events that affected our community, spurred on by reading base newspapers from the 1960s that University of Mary Washington students recently scanned for us. This month we have looked back at the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the creation of two monuments to memorialize it, the unexpected death of a beloved president, and the celebration of Christmas on the Dahlgren naval base. (You can read these at https://www.dahlgrenmuseum.org/sound-bytes-of-history) There is one more event from the 1960s that we want to look back on this month.
The December 24, 1968, edition of The Laboratory Log paid tribute to the Apollo 8 mission, in which Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders left earth on December 21st in a Saturn V SA-503 rocket, attempted and successfully completed the first manned lunar orbit with ten trips around the moon, and landed safely back on earth on December 27th.
Several items of interest occurred on this mission. On their fourth orbit, Anders took the iconic photo known as “Earthrise.” In the second of their six television broadcasts, during their ninth orbit, each man read a portion of the creation story from Genesis and signed off with: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.” The Wikipedia article on the mission states: “It is estimated that a quarter of the people alive at the time saw – either live or delayed – [that] transmission.” When contact with Earth was regained after successfully performing the first manned trans-Earth injection, Lovell announced: “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.” On Christmas, the crew was surprised with gifts from their wives and a turkey dinner with stuffing.
After a recent Facebook post by Space Geek Central about the Apollo 8 mission, several commenters reminisced about gathering together as a family at Christmastime to watch the broadcasts, something they remember vividly to this day. If you have memories of those broadcasts, we would love to hear them. You can share them in a comment on the related post on our Facebook page or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: Cover image from the December 24, 1968, edition of The Laboratory Log of the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, VA.