Apollo 8 and Inspiration Mars: Context Matters


The Earth as seen from the Moon by the crew of Apollo 8. Credit: NASA

We have an amazing ability to selectively read history, and it’s something that happens a lot with the Space Race. We see the inspirational effects of bold missions to the Moon and use them as a benchmark for future exploration. But too often these bold missions are taken out of context. Most recently the Inspiration Mars Foundation announced in a press conference its plan to send a married couple on a free-return trajectory around Mars in 2018, citing the mission as a sort of Apollo 8 for a new generation. It struck me that not one person spoke to the motivation behind Apollo 8; the refrain was that it’s the outcome that matters in this case, an influx of students interested in the sciences and a nation wide love-in about America’s “can-do” spirit.

But context does matter. If we’re going to point to history as our guide for the future it’s important to understand where these big decisions came from and equally important to understand the context in which, in the case of spaceflight, a certain mission was so inspirational. We need history in context to have a clear understanding of where we were, where we are, and how we can possibly move forward. I’ve put Apollo 8, history’s inspirational first manned mission to the Moon, in context in my latest article for Al Jazeera.


  • Stu Young says:

    Well done, Amy! As always, I learned some information new to me in your article; I had heard of the LM Test Article, and had seen pictures of it peeking out of the adapter section of the S-IVB after Apollo 8’s launch, but had never given it much thought. It is obvious to me now that it would have to be the same mass as the LM, just as I have to ballast my model rockets so that the CG is ahead of the CP (although my fellow rocket club members always remind me of the hilarious incidents in which the reverse was true! 😉 ).
    Your well-deserved reputation continues to grow in the journalistic community (Al-Jazeera, no less!). Keep living the dream!
    -Stu Young

  • Jonathan says:

    Great article. I’m hoping your book (whenever it may show up) contains a lot of forgotten/obscure stories like this.

  • Tom Gee says:

    Is it the glass half full or half empty? The title of this article could have added, Yet “Apollo 8 turned out to be one of the more inspirational missions of the entire program.”

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