This is the 21st of an exclusive series of 50 articles, published every day until July 20, exploring the 50th anniversary of the first ever Moon Landing. You can check 50 days for the moon here every day .
Apollo 8 was the Apollo capsule's triumphant Christmas Eve, with crew members Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. It flew to the Moon, encircled 10 times, astronauts reading to the world from Genesis during a live television broadcast, and the capsule returned – almost virtually flawlessly.
Apollo 8 was an impromptu mission: it flew without a moon module because they were on schedule and there was not a ready place. The goal was literally to get America to the moon before the Russians could fly there.
One of the Apollo 8's main missions was to test the accuracy and capability of the spacecraft's aircraft computers and instruments. Could the newly created computers navigate with absolute precision to the moon, and then bring astronauts back to earth with the same precision? Can the first global tracking network follow its path and communicate with it without any interruption?
Headed for the Moon, with the MIT researchers, engineers and programmers who designed real-time computers and navigation equipment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, performed the Apollo computer flawlessly. Apollo 8 & # 39; s capsule entered the moon shift less than a mile from the calculated orbit, out of 240,000 miles. The navigation was so perfect that when the coordinates were canceled on the squawk box from Mission Control, the space in Cambridge erupted in bowl.
Come home, the computer's ability to fly the spacecraft was just as perfect. In fact, the computer did as well, it caused a problem – and triggered a warning memo.
Bill Tindall was a senior NASA official in Houston, a good mood genius of space navigation and mission planning. Part of his job was to make sure the spaceships got exactly where NASA wanted them to go.
After Apollo 8's splashdown, Tindall wrote what was for him a little testy letter to Jerry Hammack, NASA's Recovery Operations Manager, and explained problem and solution.
"Jerry, I've made a lot of fun about the spacecraft hitting the carrier," wrote Tindall, "but the more I think about it, the less I think it's a joke. There are reports that the command module [Apollo 8] Get down just above the aircraft carrier and drive on its rails to land just 4,572 meters away, which really seems to be too close to me – the impact of the spacecraft hitting the carrier is really catastrophic, and I seriously recommend moving the recovery force at least 5 to 10 miles from the finish point. "
Apollo 8 had flown 580,000 miles and landed only 1.6 miles from its target in the Pacific – while literally passing just across the carrier Yorktown heading into the ocean. So close that the man in charge of all the navigation wanted the US Navy to be outside the carriers, so future spaceships didn't randomly land right on the deck.
As it turned out, the Apollo 8 set was the standard for that kind of landing accuracy.
Eight more Apollo missions flew all the way to the Moon and back. Only three landed two miles or more from their target point in the ocean. Four landed 1.5 miles from the target or less. Apollo 14 landed only 1.1 km from its target.
In almost all cases, the aircraft carrier was captured by the astronauts – and their capsules – held four miles or more from the incoming spacecraft.
Charles Fishman, who has since written for Fast Company has spent the last four years researching and writing One Giant Leap, a book on how it took 400,000 people, 20,000 companies, and a federal government to get 27 people to the moon. (You can order it here.)
For each of the next 50 days, we are sending a new story from the Fishman you probably never heard before – about the first attempt to come to the Moon, which highlights both the historical effort and the present. New posts are shown here every day as well as distributed through Fast Company's social media. (Watch # 50DaysToTheMoon).