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40 years ago today

To celebrate the flight of Apollo 8, Christmas 1968.

by Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To celebrate the flight of Apollo 8, Christmas 1968.

Preparation and materials


  1. Play the music as the students enter, and leave it playing to the end. They need to hear the last section, where ‘Major Tom’ is lost into space.
  2. 40 years ago, on 21 December 1968, three men, Commander Frank Borman, James Lovell and William A. Anders, took off from the Kennedy space centre in Florida. They were heading for the moon. Their mission was to take the Apollo spaceship out around the moon, orbit 20 times in 10 hours and then return to earth. Sounds easy?
  3. Remember, they were the first people ever to do this. Robots had been landed on the moon, but nothing had ever been brought back. The headlines of that time were full of doom and gloom – no one really thought that they would return.

    That Christmas, the world collectively held its breath as the Apollo 8 spaceship vanished into radio silence on the dark side of the moon, then returned back to radio range and orbited the moon. They completed their orbits, and eventually splashed down in the Pacific on 27 December 1968 at 10:52 a.m. American Eastern Time.
  4. As we celebrated Christmas on the earth, the astronauts sent their own special greeting, reading the account of the creation of the world from Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

    Play the BBC or YouTube clip here of the Genesis reading.

    This was not on the flight plan, and there was quite a reaction from many, both positive and negative, to the astronauts expressing their Christian belief in this way.
  5. It is difficult for us, 40 years later, to appreciate the danger of that space flight. Ironically, James Lovell’s next flight was Apollo 13, the mission that nearly took his life.

    But Apollo 13 had the lunar module, which was the part of the ship in which they returned to earth. Apollo 8 had no lunar module on board. If the mission had gone wrong, as it might well have done, there would be no ‘lifeboat’ in the form of the module.
  6. If you’ve seen the film Apollo 13, you will have gained some idea of the cramped and difficult conditions that the Apollo astronauts lived and worked in. So this Christmas, let’s remember some true heroes of the last century – the men who were the Apollo astronauts.

Time for reflection

Listen to some of the music again.

In your imagination, think of those times for the Apollo astronauts. Strapped into a tiny command module, leaving the relative security of the planet to fly to the moon and back.

Think of their families, watching and waiting through the Christmas period.

Think of how it was: the whole world watching and waiting for three brave men to return to earth, knowing that the odds against them meant that they would probably never come back.

Spend a few moments thinking about the reaction of the astronauts, which was to read that account of God creating the world.

Think of the amazing feelings that the astronauts and their loved ones must have felt as they were picked up from the Pacific on their return.

And recognize that we now take space flight pretty much for granted, for astronauts and for those millionaires who pay for the experience.


Lord God,

We thank you for the bravery of men and women who risk their lives exploring our world and our space.

Today we give thanks for all those who have explored the moon, and the space around the earth;

for the experiments that they have carried out;

for the benefits that we gained through the race to the moon.

And we thank you for that spirit that we have, to take risks, to endure and to go beyond what we already know.


Play the music again as the students leave the hall.

Publication date: December 2008   (Vol.10 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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