As 1968 was drawing to a close, rational people probably would have been happy to get as far away from earth as they could — if such a thing was possible.
By just about any measure that year, the planet was in turmoil as the Christmas season approached.
Three Americans — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders — had such an opportunity. NASA was going to launch its first manned mission to orbit the moon, and those three men had been selected to make the flight. They would be gone from Dec. 21 to Dec. 27, which meant they would have to be away from their homes and families on Christmas.
But, as I say, in 1968, such an opportunity would have been welcome for most people — and, after a three–day journey, the astronauts arrived at their destination. They made 10 orbits of the moon, during which they did a Christmas Eve broadcast from space (at the time, the most–watched television program ever) and Anders took a famous photograph called "Earthrise," depicting the earth "rising" above the moon, before embarking on the voyage home.
Actually, many photos were taken of the earthrise. The first, in black and white, was taken by Borman, the mission commander. Many others followed.
It was eventually determined that the one that would serve as the representative image was taken by Anders, the lunar module commander.
In many ways, the woes of 2013 don't really seem to compare to the woes of 1968.
Then, as now, there were American soldiers fighting on foreign soil, but the war in southeast Asia had been going badly since the beginning of 1968, when the Tet offensive persuaded many Americans that there was no hope of winning in Vietnam.
Americans are polarized today as they were 45 years ago, but the divisions we face in 2013 don't seem nearly as insurmountable as they did in 1968, when leaders were being shot down and protestors clashed with police in the streets of major cities.
But Apollo 8 — through its Christmas Eve broadcast and its iconic "Earthrise" photo — gave America and the world a boost when they needed it most.
Our problems may or may not be as severe as the ones of 1968, but we could use another boost like that today.
Don't you think?