The Story of... A Christmas like no other aboard Apollo 8

This Christmas, most television viewers will perhaps be satisfied with the Queen's speech or yet another re-run of The Great Escape. But, back in 1968, TV audiences had an extra special treat at Christmas...

On their television screens, three astronauts - Frank Borman, James Lovell (later of Apollo 13 fame) and William Anders - read passages from the Book of Genesis. Behind them viewers could see a grain black and white globe hovering in the background.

That globe was none other than planet Earth. What's more, Borman, Lovell and Anders were the first humans to see Earth from beyond low orbit, the first human beings ever to escape Earth's gravitational pull, and the first to see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes.

Their mission, Apollo 8, was only NASA's second manned Apollo space project. In fact, some historians even regard it as being more historically important than Apollo 11. Although that's open to debate, it certainly laid the groundwork for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's first steps on the Moon.

Apollo 8's seminal 'Earthrise' photo, signed and auctioned for $16,730

Having completed 10 orbits and notched-up six full days in outer space, Apollo 8's crew landed safely back on Earth on December 27, 1968. And since that time, space collectors have pushed the values of memorabilia of mankind's adventures in space to increasingly high levels...

For instance, among the 'firsts' achieved by Apollo 8 was the first photograph of planet Earth taken with a human being behind the camera. Another stunning photograph was later taken, the "Earthrise" photo, as Apollo 8's Ballast module orbited to Moon.

In November of this year, a , 19.25" x 15.25" copy of this second photograph was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas. It was no ordinary copy of the photograph, but boldly signed by members of Apollo 8 and 11: "Neil Armstrong", "James Lovell", "Frank Borman", "Bill Anders", "Buzz Aldrin" (Aldrin and Amstrong were both in Apollo 8's back-up crew) and "Mike Collins".

Five of these signatures were obtained at the 1990 ceremony where the Apollo 8 crew was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame; Lovell said that he would sign the largest because he actually took the photo. This seminal piece of history was auctioned for $16,730.

And the Apollo 8 astronauts' media duties weren't only limited to photographs. It was also required that they become the first broadcasters from outer space. This they did with aplomb, sending footage back to Earth featuring updates on the mission and examples of "space gymnastics."

Astronauts celebrate Christmas in space

It was during their fifth television broadcast to Earth on Christmas afternoon - a tour of the spaceshuttle showing the viewers at home how astronauts in space lived - that a festival surprise was discovered in the Ballast module.

It was a small present from Deke Slayton, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts who was grounded by a heart murmur (and later, temporarily, became the oldest person to fly into space at age 51).

In Ballast's food locker was a real turkey with stuffing and three miniature bottles of brandy. Those bottles of brandy have remained unopened ever since - and gave collectors a chance to get involved years later when Lovell sold his, again at Heritage Auction Galleries, for $17,925.

It's incredible to think that this bottle of brandy actually sold for more than a photograph bearing the signatures of Neil Armstrong - the world's most valuable living signature - and several other NASA legends.

Nevertheless, the sale was testament to how the 'personal touch' and a unique back story can attract the attentions of bidders at auction.


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