As a distant Earth listened, astronauts read Bible verses and made a Christmas wish.
CHICAGO – Standing next to a part of the Apollo 8 spacecraft in which he once rode, retired astronaut James Lovell on Monday read the 1968 Christmastime broadcast from the day he and two others became the first humans to orbit the moon.
Lovell marked the 45th anniversary of the orbit and the famous broadcast a day early with a re-enactment of sorts at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
“The idea of bringing people together by a flight to the moon where we encompassed everybody in our thoughts is still very valid today,” Lovell said. “The words that we read are very appropriate.”
Millions tuned in on Dec. 24, 1968, when Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Lovell circled the moon. A television camera on board took footage of the crater-filled surface as the astronauts read Bible verses describing the creation of Earth. They circled 10 times and began reading from the Book of Genesis on the last orbit.
“It’s a foundation of Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” Lovell said of choosing Genesis. “It is the foundation of most of the world’s religions. … They all had that basis of the Old Testament.”
On Monday, local high school students, a parent and Lovell, who lives in suburban Chicago, each read a few verses. Gov. Pat Quinn hosted the event, calling the broadcast an uplifting message that the country needed in 1968 and one that is still applicable today.
After the Christmastime broadcast, atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued NASA, alleging First Amendment violations. But the case was dismissed, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
Lovell said at the time the astronauts weren’t sure who would be listening and how the broadcast would be taken. He said Monday he thought it would still be received well, noting the lawsuit during a news conference. He reminded listeners of the high court’s decision, saying, “They said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ”
The famous “Earthrise” photo, which shows the Earth shining over the moon’s horizon, was also taken during the mission.
The Apollo 8 mission laid the groundwork for U.S. astronauts walking on the moon in 1969. The Apollo 8 capsule, which is the centerpiece of the museum’s space center, first arrived there in 1971.
Lovell, now 85, took part in several missions, including as pilot in the Gemini 7 flight in 1965, the command module pilot on Apollo 8 and a commander of Apollo 13.
He closed Monday with the same message the astronauts did in 1968.
“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,” Lovell said.