The biggest concern before Apollo 9 was the docking maneuver. In early 1969, at NASA there was little confidence in the docking system. At a January program review, Phillips said that problems encountered during probe and drogue testing worried him…
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”
“‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
‘And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
‘And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'”
“‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
‘And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
‘And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.’”
“‘And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
‘And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.'”
“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.”
As Apollo 8 drifted above the far side of the moon Borman, Lovell, and Anders observed a scene of total desolation. It appeared absent of color, except for various shades of gray. There was no atmosphere to soften the view, it was a scene of extreme clarity.
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 successful Apollo 7 flight cleared the way for a US moon landing in 1969. Still a lot of flight and ground testing remained and there would probably be surprises. The greatest concern was Nasa had to complete three virtually flawless missions and achieve every major test objective before a lunar landing could be attempted. The odds seemed to be stack against NASA.