On Dec. 21, 1968, one thing was the same in living rooms across the world: families were gathered, glued to their televisions, tuned into the launch of Apollo 8.
It was the first crewed spacecraft to leave Earth, orbit the moon and safely come back, and there were six live broadcasts during the trip. On the fourth broadcast — on Christmas Eve — astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit another world.
An estimated one billion people in 64 countries watched or listened to the crew’s greeting from space: “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth,” according to NASA. (Delayed broadcasts reached an additional 30 countries later that day.)
“It was amazing,” said Voula Saridakis, Ph.D., a curator at the Museum of Science and Industry, which has been home to the Apollo 8 command module since 1971. “It was about 25 percent of the world's population. So lots of pictures were taken that evening — children and adults watching the TV broadcast, that famous Christmas Eve broadcast.”
In one photo, the family of Apollo 8’s command module pilot and navigator, Captain Jim Lovell, watches the launch. That photo sits among others lining a wall across from a training simulator that was once used at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Images like those are the inspiration for the museum’s Moon Room 1968 — a pop-up of a retro living room from December 1968 that is part of a monthlong “To the Moon and Back Again” 50th anniversary celebration.
“There are so many photos now associated with people watching this broadcast that particular evening,” Saridakis said. “And that's where we got our inspiration to recreate Moon Room 1968.”
The room is set up inside the museum's Smart Home, and Saridakis said it did take a bit of research to get the room just right. An aluminum Christmas tree with antique toys sits behind a TV with antenna, encyclopedias line the wall and typewriters are set up for visitors to write letters to the astronauts.
Adding to Moon Room 1968, which will be open until Jan. 6, other celebration events include a Moon Fest on Dec. 22 with the Adler Planetarium and showings of the film Journey to Space in the Henry Crown Space Center's Giant Dome Theater. In October, the museum held a gala with Lovell and his crewmates Frank Borman and Bill Anders.
“It's just this amazing celebration of space and what we're capable of achieving,” Saridakis said. “And I think that's so nicely represented by the Apollo 8 mission because it really was an incredible, historic and daring mission, and came at a very tumultuous time in American history. It really brought a lot of people together.”
Arionne Nettles, who reported at MSI, is a digital producer at WBEZ covering arts and culture. Follow her @arionnenettles.
Lauren Frost, who interviewed Capt. Jim Lovell, covers news at WBEZ. Follow her @frostlaur.