30 December 1968 : the prodigious adventure


    What the whole world has felt led to rise in the sky the modern pyramid of the conquerors of the cosmos, it is the pride shared-breakers impossible. No music could be sweeter to the heart of men that the wild concert of the start : engines of Saturn, screaming in space.

    A new word has acquired right to the city last week, word scientific : équigravisphère. Until then, it was a theoretical concept, an abstract idea, an imaginary line that separates mathematically the two fields of gravity, in this case that of the Earth and the Moon. It has become a reality.

    On Monday, December 23, 1968, at 21h29, Paris time, in the silence of these infinite spaces that terrified Pascal, after a journey of 326 213 km, three men, three citizens of the United States of America, three spouses of the models, who go to church on Sunday, and mow the lawn regularly in their garden, who have children and who teach their children to believe in Father Christmas, have crossed the équigravisphère that delimits the terrestrial domain. Ceasing to walk away, more gently, of the Earth, as a stone that loses its momentum, they have begun to fall, faster and faster, towards the Moon, waiting for 55 521 km away. They had changed the world.[…]

    celestial mechanics

    What is striking in the conquerors of the new worlds of the Twentieth century, in this first step of the real space, this escape far away from any recognisable reality, it is the rigor, the precision, the technical perfection of the company.

    Rigorous any mathematical : the laws of celestial mechanics. An error of a few tens of kilometers, a few seconds of acceleration, more or less, throughout this fantastic journey, and the issue was missed, the tiny cabin of the Apollo 8 irreparably deviated from its course.

    only On the theoretical level, to organize this brief back and forth, it was necessary to take into account hundreds of parameters, to integrate tens of thousands of equations, and to perform a sum calculation that no man, no team of mathematicians was able to carry out within the time limits imposed. Astronautics is legitimate daughter of the computer.

    above all, it was necessary to enter these equations into reality. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders are off to the Moon as we take the train to the gare Saint-Lazare, the second announced by the time : 13h52, Saturday, December 21, 1968. And there was something fascinating to follow, every step of the trip, known in advance, circulated by the press throughout the world, the dialogue, almost a ritual, that hovered between the three astronauts and the Earth, to ensure that everything was in order and that we could proceed, at the appointed hour, the manoeuvre provided. To the point that there was a moment of panic, to the control centre in Houston, on Christmas morning, because the communications, immediately after the pull-the attraction of the moon, were stopped, without apparent reason, for six minutes.

    space center Houston, in The Express of December 30, 1968.

    The Express

    Party on Saturday, they turned twice around the Earth before taking off to the Moon, they reached the area on Tuesday morning 24, to 10 hours, after two course corrections only, instead of the four envisioned in the plan of the volume Has 10: 49a.m., they disappeared behind the star. All communications cut, they were solely responsible for the orbit, by braking of the vehicle. It is perfectly accomplished. “We got it !” announced the Earth at 11h26.

    20 meters

    They have completed ten revolutions around the Moon, photographing, picking out landing fields possible, before leaving, the morning of Christmas, accelerating the ship. On Friday afternoon, they re-entered the earth’s atmosphere to land in the Pacific, tired but triumphant. Throughout this trajectory of more than a million kilometres, the spacecraft was tracked to the ground at twenty meters. At a time when Borman apologized to be drowsy, Houston replied: “We were there”.

    Wonderful success, ease sovereign, which must not be deceived.”No project will be too difficult to achieve or too expensive”, had warned president Kennedy, may 25 1961, when, for the first time, he proposed to his people to conquer the Moon.

    today, the technicians of Cape Kennedy, which were working up to seventy hours per week for the month of October, can testify that he was right. And those of Houston, who remained standing even when it was their turn to sleep, to not lose a second of the prodigious adventure. And those of some 20 000 private companies that have made their contribution to the development of the material. All, they know that every moment of those 147 hours of flight corresponded to a risk deliberately ran, a technical challenge that is overcome, the success was the culmination of a gigantic work, long patience, a phenomenal coalition of ways.

    If the 2660 tonnes of the rocket Saturn V, mouthful of kerosene, oxygen and hydrogen liquid, exploded at the start, the violence of the explosion would have been comparable to that of Hiroshima. During the twelve minutes of combustion of the three-storey, 2600 separate actions are recorded automatically, and instantly analyzed. The ship Apollo 2 million of spare parts, 25 km of electrical wire, its dashboard 506 buttons and switches, 71 indicator lights, 40 indicators. The three hydrogen batteries, which provide the astronauts with electricity and water, life and energy, are devices that did not even exist in the lab ten years ago.

    dust Free

    The design of the rocket goes back to 1958. It was the work of Wernher von Braun, who was studying the problem since his youth, which had already been stolen, during the war, the V1 and the V2. Then, each step of the realization was the occasion of new feats, in all fields of technology.

    To carry the pieces of the rocket, it was necessary to build seven boats and two aircraft of a type new ; to assemble the spaceship, build the largest room without dust of the world ; to put to the test network of 14 monitoring stations spread over the entire surface of the globe, which follow second-by-second progression of the astronauts, it was necessary to launch a satellite special.

    None of the objects loaded on board, if commonplace is its use, not to be found in the trade. Nasa has had to rethink, reinvent everything. The menus of astronauts may be typically american, with soup, corn, eggs, bacon or chicken in sauce, and the turkey for Christmas, every dish had to be previously reduced to a pulp, dehydrated, sealed in bag waterproof. […]

    The crew of Apollo 8, in The Express of December 30, 1968.

    The Express

    originally, the White House had planned for the trip to the Moon fifty billion Francs, more than four times the entire annual spending, both public and private, of the French research. It will cost much more than double. The only flight Apollo 8, although Borman, Lovell and Anders does not affect their balance, even without a premium for having worked during a weekend, as well as the Christmas day, amounts to 1.5 billion Francs. One of the flight simulators on which the three men have endlessly repeated their mission costing close to $ 50 Million. In total, America has committed 1% of its national product in the space.


    No sacrifice seemed too great. It was to avenge the honor of the United States, wounded to the quick by the successful soviet October 1957, the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of the Earth. Not that the scientists and technicians in the us have been so late on those. After all, it is march 5, 1926, Robert Goddard had launched, in Maryland, the first rocket in the u.s. to liquid fuel. The plans of the Atlas date back to 1946. He had only missed in the United States the imagination to grasp the dimensions and perspectives of the space adventure.

    It took them three years to achieve it, three years during which they launched a few at random anything that came to hand, accumulating failures and humiliations. During this time, the U. R. S. S. multiplies the success, and seemed to take an advance impossible to catch up.

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    This time, the time of revenge has come, bright. President Kennedy had proposed the goal, the Moon, and launched in the Russian federation the challenge of getting there first, held bet. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, overcoming the last hesitations of the experts of the Nasa, has taken personally the decision, at the beginning of November, to offer Us this fabulous gift of Christmas : three men, their fellow citizens, flying over for the first time the Moon is flying close to the photographing at close range to audiences around the world.

    The American official, members of Congress, judges of the supreme Court, had taken care to witness the departure. Even Charles Lindbergh, the hero of legend that had given the United States, there are forty-one years, the first crossing of the Atlantic by plane, but that, since tens of years, is more never in public, had come to encourage his cadets.

    January 27, 1967

    there was also a woman in the crowd, Mrs. Larry Grissom. January 27, 1967, her husband, accompanied by two other astronauts, Edward White and Roger Chaffee, was mounted, also in a cabin of Apollo. It was never dropped. The fire had taken during the rehearsal and the three men had perished charred. Among the experts, after the disaster, to determine the weak points of the ship, was Frank Borman, who was now in command of Apollo 8.

    These deaths, and approximately 20,000 changes which had been made, both in the cabin as the rocket, this was part of the price America had agreed to pay his victory. Moscow has welcomed as he agreed the greatness of the feat, a tribute to the courage of three pioneers. But nothing has transpired of the reasons that led the U. R. S. S. to get beat on the field she had chosen. This is not a question of money. It is estimated that it takes up to 2% of its national income to devote budgets substantially equal, in absolute value, to those of the United States. The space, indeed, for the masters to think of the U. R. S. S., is much more than a simple operation of prestige or propaganda. It appears as the logical complement and the best justification of the marxist ideology, the tangible evidence that the communist man, in transforming the world, is beyond him.me. He shall bring him to this messianism and dream which the Americans, before the intervention of president Kennedy, had disregarded the essential value of training.


    […] Yet, even if the Russians had bypassed the Moon a few days before Borman and his team-mates, as we believed after the success of Zond 6, their ship, less refined than Apollo, but they would have probably not allowed to put in orbit. Perhaps they wanted to avoid this comparison of the techniques.

    regardless of their efforts, they seem to be in any case hopelessly beaten in the race to the Moon. We do not believe that they have already tried a rocket comparable to the Saturn 5. While landing on our satellite is now planned by Nasa for the beginning of the summer, if the vehicle is landing, the Lunar Module, is ready in time. At the latest, it will take place before the end of 1969.

    Without a doubt, the U. R. S. S. did it ever granted to the Moon, as Nasa, as an absolute priority. And with Soyuz, the Russians are able, now, to put a lab in orbit around the Earth, while the Americans are only to draw up plans. But it seems that their program, started with a bang, had, for political reasons as much as technical, a period of hesitation and wavering, from 1965 and until these last few months.

    most Importantly, they learn the hard way that no power in the world is capable, at the present time, to defy with impunity the United States in the field of the mobilization of the necessary technical and industrial. It is more than a matter of ideology. It is here that the profound genius of the peoples.

    Since Icarus

    It is startling to see how the Americans, who are launched into space for reasons primarily political, exalt relentlessly on the prowess of their industry and the most humble of its workers. While the Russians, imbued with scientism, tend, in their propaganda, to reduce the space to a sports performance researchers.

    The total victory, irrefutable, Apollo 8 put an end to the war of prestige that had begun eleven years ago. Now, America seems to reign without sharing the space. But, if there is a lesson to be learned from the event, it is, paradoxically, the little attention that is lent to the fact, in the last week. After months of tension, as it was felt the race to the Moon entering its decisive phase, abruptly, the United States, winners, see the victory of the hands.

    too long ago that we dreamed. From the time of Jules Verne, who, already, had chosen to launch a shell to the Moon, 100 km of Cape Canaveral, Florida, now Cape Kennedy. Since Cyrano de Bergerac, since Icarus. The challenge of the part was too big, their consequences too overwhelming for that the success could continue to be the property of a single nation, it was giant. […] It belongs to men. And the conquest of the Moon is also the victory of the idealism of soviet and laws patiently discoveries of astronomy, as that of the american technical. It is the victory promethean of the man leaving for the first time the planet was born, who holds them prisoner for thousands of years, as the young giant Pantagruel is ripping off its cradle.

    world peace

    The three astronauts who, for the first time since man exists, have had the privilege to contemplate, through the windows of their cabin, the desert moon almost at hand, in this Christmas night, have not sung the anthem. They opened the Bible. They have not even read the story of the Nativity, they have sought inspiration more solemn was the gravity of their emotion. They have taken the first verses of Genesis, which narrate the creation of the universe. And Frank Borman has aired on the a prayer for the peace of the world. Certainly, Borman is a stake episcopalian, that directs sometimes the service at the church of Cape Kennedy. But, that night, the words that he uttered rang out into the hearts of all those who were able to hear it.

    That is to say, the peoples of the Earth. Who were there. Listening, watching. It is the miracle of television. […] Thanks to the extraordinary camera of 2 kilos made by the company RCA, thanks to the global network of reception, transmission and image processing, organized by Nasa, millions of people followed the adventure, hour by hour, minute by minute. They were with the pioneers, saw what they saw, at the same time. The delay was no more than a second.

    Plaster cracked

    As the men reacted. Spontaneously, they understood that this was their adventure. In an unprecedented move, the Spanish television has interrupted the transmission of the football match Malaga-Real, allowing the viewer to look at Anders and let it float in zero-gravity toothbrush. Millions of catholics have learned that the Pope was praying for the three men. Only China has held its people in complete ignorance of the feat of Apollo. Everywhere else, from one end to the other the globe, one could see Anders prepare a chocolate. It was discovered, with them, the miles of pumice stone, this block gray plaster cracked as is the Moon. We had forgotten their nationality, almost up to their name. In their flexible combination, they were anyone. Men like others.

    Dès the first flight of Gagarin, we had written it. But it remained an abstract idea. The tragic death of Grissom and his two companions, then that of Vladimir Komarov, three months later, it became a feeling. After Apollo 8, this is now obvious. Blinding.

    The astronautics is born of the cold war, the competition has provided her with a growth hormone. But its very success condemns it now to renounce such adjuvants. Without a doubt, one day, space travel will become as common as today the crossing of the Atlantic. But where to go ? The Moon is a star death. Those who still doubted have had the proof last week. It can only serve as a starting point.

    beyond the Moon, there was Mars. And, this time, the distances are in hundreds of thousands of kilometers, but in the hundreds of millions. There are many differences between Apollo and an expedition to Mars that between the first Sputnik and Apollo. And the number of expenditure increases in proportion. Modern humanity, harassed by the arms race, overwhelmed by its contrasts-the drama of crowded cities, of continents under-developed, the destruction of his own environment, of the disease, which, although benign, has the needle down into the cabin, Apollo, did not afford the race to March, as it is offered two times a trip to the Moon, with all that this implies of energy and wealth wasted.

    The agreement global

    There is no shortage of heads policies to conclude, very logically, that space is doomed. […] The politicians forget only that the heart of man obeys not always the logic, that enthusiasm is, sometimes, stronger and, ultimately, more reasonable than reason. Nasa, this summer, seemed to be sentenced by the us authorities. She was forced to lay off thousands of technicians, parliamentarians ceased not to trim its credits. Apollo 8 earned him such a boost in popularity that all the world knows now that we do not dare to discuss his projects.

    Read our complete file

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    similarly, the deep emotion that has rocked the men, this week, it will not be easily suffocated. The agreement planetary that requires the astronautics began to be realized. Borman, Lovell and Anders had gone to the conquest of the Moon. May be we have they reported something more precious : this image of the Earth, now shining like a sun, sometimes tormented and covered in clouds, that for the first time its inhabitants could be easily seen in its totality, the planet is ridiculous and wonderful, unique in the field of stars.


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