“Debrief: Apollo 8” is an official NASA film produced in 1969 that takes the viewer inside the story of man’s first journey into orbit around the moon, with comments on the significance of the flight by several prominent Americans. Narrated by film and television actor Burgess Meredith, it includes photographs of the lunar surface, Earth as seen from the moon, and activities of the astronauts. Apollo 8, the second crewed mission in the United States Apollo space program, was launched on December 21, 1968 and became the first human-crewed space craft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth’s Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, and then the first to directly see the far side of the Moon. The 1968 mission, the first crewed launch of a Saturn V rocket, was also the first crewed launch from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida, adjacent to Cape Canaveral.
The film opens as Apollo 8’s 16mm camera pans across the lunar surface and we listen to a few transmissions from the crew before we move to the “beginning” of the story and gaze upon a Saturn V rocket. At mark 03:48 we watch the Apollo 8 crew lift off and hear Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, an American minister and author who promoted the concept of “positive thinking” as he explained how the mission rejuvenated the spirit of mankind following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Further transmissions from the crew are heard from space and Meredith continues to explain mission details until mark 05:33, when historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. explains how much has changed since the first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Scenes from within the spacecraft follow starting at mark 06:00 along with scenes from mission control, and at mark 10:13 we see the first shot of Earth as taken from space — a grainy image of our planet taken by Apollo 8 cameras. We listen to thoughts from Thomas J. Watson, Jr., chairman of the board of IBM, and political scientist Ralph Bunche, as we look at a live TV picture of the moon taken from Apollo 8 (mark 11:48). The astronauts describe the desolate appearance of the lunar surface at mark 12:35 — the first time in history that human’s have looked upon the surface with their own eyes, while entertainer Bob Hope weighs in from a tour during the Vietnam War beginning at mark 13:13. The camera continues to scan the surface for the first time as the astronauts describe the “vast loneliness” of the moon.
More footage of the crew inside the spacecraft working in zero gravity follows and at mark 18:18 Lovell jokes about how the Christmas-time mission encountered Santa Claus. At mark 19:15, over gray images of the moon’s surface, we listen to each astronaut read a section from the Biblical creation story, and at mark 20:50 see the now-famous “Earthrise” image. Science fiction author Issac Asimov shares his thoughts starting at mark 21:34, while at mark 21:55 we see another gray, grainy image of Earth during a TV transmission before the spacecraft safely lands in the Pacific Ocean at mark 23:08. Meredith concludes at mark 25:20 by describing how the Apollo missions will move forward, culminating with an eventual lunar landing.