BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Astronaut Frank Borman, who commanded the historic Apollo 8 Christmas flight in 1968, which circled the Moon 10 times and paved the way for the moon landing the following year, has died. He was 95 years old.
Borman died Tuesday in Billings, Montana, according to NASA.
Borman also ran the troubled Eastern Airlines in the 1970s and early 1980s after leaving the astronaut corps.
But he was best known for his duties at NASA. He and his crew, James Lovell and William Anders, were the first Apollo mission to fly to the moon and see Earth as a distant sphere in space.
“Today we remember one of NASA’s best. “Astronaut Frank Borman was a true American hero,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement Thursday. “His lifelong love of aviation and exploration was surpassed only by his love for his wife Susan.”
Launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 trio spent three days traveling to the moon and maneuvered into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. After circling 10 times on December 24 and 25, they returned home on December 27.
On Christmas Eve, the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis in a live broadcast from the orbiter: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.”
Borman ended the broadcast by saying: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless you all, all of you on the good Earth.”
Lovell and Borman had previously flown together during the two-week Gemini 7 mission, which launched on December 4, 1965, and, just 120 feet apart, they completed the first orbital space encounter with Gemini 6.
“Gemini was a tall order,” Borman told The Associated Press in 1998. “It was smaller than the front seat of a Volkswagen. He made Apollo look like a super-luxurious, super-duper tour bus.”
In his book, “Countdown: An Autobiography,” Borman said that Apollo 8 was originally supposed to orbit the Earth. The success of the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968 to demonstrate the system’s reliability in long-duration flights made NASA decide it was time to try flying to the moon.
But Borman said there was another reason NASA changed the plan: The agency wanted to beat the Russians. Borman said he thought orbit would be enough.
“My main concern on this entire flight was to get there before the Russians and get home. In my opinion, that was a significant achievement,” Borman said in a 2017 appearance in Chicago.
It was on the crew’s fourth orbit that Anders took the iconic “Earthrise” photograph showing a blue and white Earth rising above the gray lunar landscape.
Borman wrote about what the Earth looked like from afar: “We were the first humans to see the world in its majestic entirety, an intensely emotional experience for each of us. We didn’t say anything to each other, but I was sure our thoughts were identical: our families on that spinning globe. And maybe we share another thought I had: This must be what God sees.”