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Yesterday in La Crosse

Three astronauts celebrated Christmas above the moon, 51 years ago

Brad Williams

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Men went into orbit around the moon for the very first time on Christmas Eve of 1968.  The Apollo 8 spacecraft circled the moon until Christmas morning…preparing for the first manned moon landing which would happen the following year. In a live TV broadcast to Earth that night, the three astronauts…Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell…aimed a camera out the capsule window at the lunar surface, and read from the Genesis account of the Creation.  In the 1980’s, an early episode of “The Wonder Years” showed Kevin Arnold and his family watching the Apollo 8 broadcast, but there’s no indication in the episode that it was supposed to be Christmastime. 

Other TV shows on the networks that night included the Red Skelton Christmas show, with an appearance by Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen.  Space coverage also may have bumped a few daytime shows off TV.  Popular game shows of ’68 included “Snap Judgment” and “Treasure Isle.”  “Concentration” still had its traditional Christmas Eve show, with two celebrities dressed as Santa Claus playing the puzzle game for charity, to decide which one was the “real” Santa.  But the biggest thing on TV that Christmas Eve was the Apollo broadcast, which ended with Frank Borman saying “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.”  In 1968, yesterday in La Crosse.

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