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Apollo 8 Christmas in Space

While at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, last week, I was recently invited to attend a NASA retiree ‘beer keg of the month’ get together. These guys have been doing this since the early 60s when they were active at NASA after every Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launch and still today as a monthly retirement group event.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ken A. Young, who had an exciting career at NASA on multiple programs. Here is his Oral History given to NASA in 2001

He worked on all the Apollos except Apollo 8. But he is credited with a poem that he wrote which Mission Control read on air-to-ground link for Apollo 8 right after they did a Trans Earth Injection (TEI) maneuver (Apollo 8 launched from Cape Kennedy on Dec. 21, 1968—50 years ago!). It was a parody on the ‘Night before Christmas’. The following is a transcript in which astronaut Jack Schmitt read over the air (he called himself ‘Typhoid Jack’ because he kept getting passed over for crew selection, but he ultimately went to the Moon on Apollo 17—the last manned mission to the Moon). See my article here about my meeting with him: {Apollo 17: The last men on the Moon }. He was the only scientist astronaut—a geologist. Capcom turned over the mic to Jack and Jack called up to Frank Borman after the TEI:

Apollo 8 insignia (Image courtesy of NASA)

Apollo 8 insignia (Image courtesy of NASA)

“Typhoid Jack here, and we have got some good words here that originated at the Cape with a bunch of friends of yours. And it's sort of in a paraphrase of a poem that you probably are familiar with. Do you read me, Apollo 8?”

“'Twas the night before Christmas and way out in space,

the Apollo 8 crew had just won the moon race;

The headsets were hung by the consoles with care,

In hopes that Chris Kraft soon would be there;

Frank Borman was nestled all snug in his bed,

While visions of REFSMMAT's danced in his head;

And Jim Lovell, in his couch, and Anders, in the bay,

were racking their brains over a computer display,

When out of the DSKY, there arose such a clatter,

Frank sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the sextant he flew like a flash,

To make sure they weren't going to crash.

The light on the breast of the moon's jagged crust,

Gave a luster of green cheese to the gray lunar dust,

When what to his wondering eyes should appear,

But a Burma Shave sign saying 'Kilroy was here.'

(Laughter)

But Frank was no fool; he knew pretty quick,

That they had been first; this must be a trick.

More rapid than rockets, his curses they came,

He turned to his crewmen and called them a name.

Now Lovell, now Anders, now don't think I'd fall

For an old joke you've written up on the wall.

They spoke not a word, but grinning like elves,

And laughed at their joke in spite of themselves.

Frank sprang to his couch, to the ship gave a thrust,

And away they all flew past the gray lunar dust.

But we heard them explain ere they flew around the moon:

Merry Christmas to earth; we will be back there real soon.”

5 comments on “Apollo 8 Christmas in Space

  1. Andy_I
    December 20, 2018

    Thanks.  This was fun.  But I had to look up what a REFSMMAT is.  I'm pretty sure the reading of this poem was overshadowed by the other Apollo 8 accomplishments and communications that week.

    You aren't old enough to have remembered the live broadcast from lunar orbit, are you?  I'm sure you know the one I mean.

  2. Steve Taranovich
    December 20, 2018

    Thanks Andy_l for your comments. And yes, that was an awesome broadcast on December 24, 1968—I was in my freshman year at NYU Engineering school in the Bronx. I never missed any NASA event, especially since I first started with the Mercury launches earlier in the 60s and even now as I visit many NASA locations. (I am hoping to see an SLS launch soon in person)

    Best wishes for the holiday season—-more neat articles are coming on EDN and Planet Analog regarding NASA activities and the book I am writing about the Apollo program and the Lunar Module.

  3. Andy_I
    December 21, 2018

    Next week's NOVA program on PBS is all about Apollo 8.

  4. Steve Taranovich
    December 23, 2018

    Thanks for sharing that Andy_l

  5. jonharris0
    January 2, 2019

    Thanks for sharing this Steve!  I got quite a kick out of this. I love making up things like this myself…my wife doesn't enjoy quite as much as I do though! Ha ha!

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