It was the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 8 Mission on December 21. The 21st was also the Winter Solstice, and when you live in the Far North, that observance takes precedence over most anniversaries. We did gain just over 4 minutes of daylight today from yesterday, in case anyone was wondering.
Still, Apollo 8 was a big deal, no offense to Steph Curry. It was the first manned spacecraft to leave the Earth’s orbit, travel to the moon, orbit the moon, and then safely return. Without this mission, the moon landing could never have occurred.
The Apollo 8 crew: Frank Borman, William Anders and James Lovell
It was the first crew launched on the Saturn V rocket, for a mission that would take just over 6 days. In fact, it took 68 hours just to travel the distance to the moon, before orbiting our celestial companion 10 times.
Earthrising: the famous photo from the Apollo 8 mission. Photo credit: William Anders
With everything that Apollo 8 accomplished, I think William Anders’ photo of the Earth rising above the surface of the moon, was the mission’s greatest gift to mankind. The photo was taken on Christmas Eve, 1968. For the first time, one of our own, had taken a picture looking back at our home. There, against the blackness of space, was our blue-marbled planet, looking beautiful and fragile. National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry compared the image to “humanity seeing itself in the mirror for the first time”.
The Apollo 8 patch
New Horizons does flyby of Kuiper Belt Snowman:
Artist rendition of New Horizons and Ultima Thule; Credit: NASA
The New Horizons spacecraft recently observed the most distant object yet from Earth. Launched on 19 January 2006, New Horizons has explored a lot of our solar system, raising the stakes with a flyby of Pluto in July 2015. Now, just over three years later, the spacecraft, that is about the size of a minivan, did a flyby of Ultima Thule over New Years.
Ultima Thule; Photo credit: New Horizons/NASA
Ultima Thule, which is Latin for “beyond the borders of the known world”, is a trans-Neptunian object in The Kuiper Belt. It is a contact binary, which is two small bodies stuck together. The larger body of Ultima is three times the volume of Thule. It was discovered in 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope. Ultima is 1.5 billion kms further out than Pluto, and takes just under 300 years to orbit the sun.
As of January 1, New Horizons was 6.5 billion kms from Earth and passed within 3500 kms of Ultima Thule during the flyby. It takes six hours for radio signals to reach Earth from the spacecraft, and it will take 20 months for all data from the flyby to make it back to Earth.