Above: The pending mission of Apollo 8 astronauts to orbit the Moon in three weeks is highlighted in a special article appearing in the December 1, 1968 issue of "Space Craft Explorer" magazine, "Gleanings from an Asteroid," by Joe Fitzpatrick. Steve Durst, SU4379
Space Craft Cover makers Joe Fitzpatrick and Carl Swanson use the Explorer magazine cover to show a festive Mickey Mouse in an astronaut's space suit conducting other Disney characters with a candy cane in a holiday song and wishing everyone "Christmas Greetings and a Happy New Year."
The magazine cover pictured also notes, "From Apollo 8." In his article, Fitzpatrick provides timely comments about the upcoming Apollo 8 lunar mission and how space cover collectors could send their covers to Task Force 140 and 130 to obtain ship cancels for the mission.
Above: A Clyde Sarzin cover is cancelled on December 25, 1968, Christmas Day, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, upon successful firing of the Apollo 8 spacecraft's service propulsion system rocket engine after the crew completes their tenth orbit of the Moon as they clear the dark side of the Moon and start their 57 hour journey back to Earth. Mission Control Capcom T. K. Mattingly in Houston says he hears Apollo 8's transmission "loud and clear," and astronaut Jim Lovell exclaims, "Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus!" as the crew of Apollo 8 completes its last orbit of the Moon and heads for Earth.
Space Cover #244 – Apollo 8 Confirms There is a Santa Claus!
Acting NASA Administrator, Thomas Paine determined that the decision to fly the Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission would require a full review of the readiness of the mission's hardware, crew, and support systems. Paine concluded, "After a careful and thorough examination of all systems and the risks and befits involved in each of the mission alternatives, we have concluded that we are ready to fly this advanced mission around the Moon. He continues, "Frank Borman and his crew are eager to proceed, our engineers unanimously recommend this mission, and, without being over confident, we believe that we understand the hazards involved and are now ready to take this next step forward in the nation's space program."
The Apollo 8 mission remains on schedule in the remaining weeks leading up to the launch, and Apollo 8's crew thunders into space at 7:51 am EST from LC-39, December 21, 1968, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The Apollo 8 crew of Commander Frank Borman, Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders, and Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell are on their way on the Moon on America's first manned lunar mission.
This mission has the primary objective of orbiting the Moon and after ten orbits, to return to Earth after exploring the way for subsequent manned missions to go to and land on the Moon. Speed of the crew's spacecraft to the Moon for 66 hours during the lunar insertion phase is an exhilarating 24,200 mph. Nearing the Moon, the crew slows the spacecraft and at the 24,000 mile mark, the crew again accelerates their spacecraft to achieve orbit around the Moon with a 69.5 mile high apogee from the lunar surface, Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968.
Now in lunar orbit and just prior to radio blackout as Apollo 8 approaches the far side of the Moon, Commander Frank Borman transmits this holiday greeting, "And from the crew of Apollo, we close with a good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth."
Completion of the six day Apollo 8 mission is a tremendous success, and in many ways is a prelude to a later important Apollo missions: the Apollo 11 mission that would land astronauts on the Moon, and the Apollo 13 mission that would fail to land astronauts on the Moon after explosion of an oxygen tank in their spacecraft 240,000 miles from Earth. The Apollo 13 crew would successfully orbit the Moon, pick-up an assist from the Moon to increase speed, and against incredible odds, return safely back to Earth. Both of these lunar missions would be among the world's greatest historical space achievements even to today.
The spaceflight cover shown below addressed to astute space cover collector Barbara Baker was an attempt to get Commander Frank Borman to carry her cover on the Apollo 8 orbital spaceflight to the Moon, December 21 to 27, 1968. Note, the cachet includes hand written information for the Apollo 8 spaceflight, the first manned lunar orbital flight, but Commander Borman has not signed the cover indicating that he did not carry the cover on his flight. Had Borman signed this cover and returned it to Baker, the cover would have become a spectacular flown cover for Apollo 8. The cover would also be the only flown cover known for this first manned Apollo mission to the Moon.
The theme of Christmas is seen in many of the space covers made for the Apollo 8 mission, but also note, there is only one date for Apollo mission cancels on Christmas Day, and that date is during the Apollo 8 mission as it leaves lunar orbit of the Moon. The above cover is a dual cancelled Velvetone cachet cover for the Apollo 8 mission, in red and green colors, the colors of Christmas, strongly emphasized in the cover's cachet. The two cancels on the cover are for the launch of the Apollo 8 mission, December 21, 1968, shown at the top of the cover; the second cancel at the bottom of the cover is for the successful recovery of the Apollo 8 crew and their spacecraft, December 27, 1968, completing Apollo 8's manned lunar mission and adding to holiday festivities and cheer around the world!
As in previous years, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our Space Cover of the Week readers and writers a very Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season. I would also like to add a season's greeting, "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All."