Just a few minutes after Apollo 8’s second TV broadcast, Borman, Lovell, and Anders passed Earth’s gravitational hill top and crossed into the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence.
At T plus 40 seconds Apollo 8 went supersonic and the ride smoothed out. Now it was quite again, but Borman kept a watchful eye on the trajectory readouts. If there was a Saturn malfunction he could whisk the capsule away just by twisting the abort handle. This would trigger the escape rocket.
Until now the astronauts knew, in the back of their minds, there was a possibility that a malfunction would turn this countdown into just another practice run and they would have to get out and try again another day. But, as the count reached T minus 15 minutes, there was no doubt, they were really going.
For now the mighty Saturn V stood empty. But overnight, even while Borman’s crew slept, technicians would ready it for departure. By morning its enormous fuel thanks would be filled with cryogenic propellants, until the rocket would contain the explosive energy of an atomic bomb.
The success of Apollo 4 gave good reason to believe that the Saturn V could be trusted to propel men into space. But NASA pushed on with its plans for a second unmanned booster flight, primarily to give the Pad 39 launch team another rehearsal before sending men into deep space on the Saturn V. The mission was called Apollo 6…
Max Faget’s position was that considering the difficulty of the job, if each mission was successful half the time, it would be well worth the effort. But Gilruth thought that was too low. He want a 90% mission success ratio and a 99% ratio for Astronaut safety. Walt Williams who was currently running the Mercury program believed that astronaut safety needed to be limited to only 1 failure in a million which was 99.9999%.
…From the information they gathered on the existing technical problems, Disher and Tischler concluded that prospects were only one in ten that Apollo would land on the moon before the end of the decade….
“The contractor role in Houston was not very firm. Frankly, they didn’t want us. There were two things against us down there. Number one, it was a Headquarters contract, and it was decreed that the Space Centers shall use GE for certain things; and number two they considered us (meaning GE) to be Headquarters spies.” Edward S. Miller of General Electric.