The Ries Chapter

Leading up to the Apollo 8 mission, all previous Apollo flights had been executed cautiously in short incremental steps that included only flights into space, and not penetrating beyond the orbit of the Earth. That being said, NASA planners were concerned that the pace of mission’s accomplishments would not be fast enough, and would perhaps jeopardize President John F. Kennedy’s mandate of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Apollo 8 mission was revised to speed up the program. The original plan was to continue with Earth orbits as a follow up to previous missions. However, in a quick about face to catch up, the planners revised the mission to implement a Moon orbit . . . sort of jumping ahead of the game. This decision was supported after the return of the successful Apollo 7 mission. Arguments against speeding up the program came from some NASA officials who called it a flight gamble that demanded critical space flight decisions, and citing two major dangers:

  1. “If the engine burns faltered or failed early”, the astronauts could not       return to Earth.
  2. “If the engine burned too long, the spacecraft would not achieve its desired orbit and would speed downward to smash into the Moon”.  

On December 21, 1968, with one of the largest gatherings at the Cape to watch the launch, with tens of million watching on TV, Borman, Lovell and Anders strapped into the spacecraft on top of a Saturn V rocket, and took off on a perfect launch. However, one knowledgeable person observed they “were embarking on an arguably the most dangerous manned mission yet undertaken-navigating into the moon’s orbit”. When the third stage of the rocket fired and sent the spacecraft to enter Earth’s two orbits, the crew during this time checked out the spacecraft for any damage due to the launch. There was none. The green light was given, and the command at Houston gave the O.K. to perform a “Trans Lunar Injection”, meaning, fly to the Moon for a moon orbit. By Christmas Eve, the spacecraft was just doing that. In other words, a satellite of the moon orbiting in an oval pattern getting close as 60 odd miles from the surface. During this time the spacecraft made ten lunar orbits which equated to two hours per orbit. Some of the main reasons for this mission were to take plenty of photographs, most pertaining to the topography of plains and craters that could determine a possible landing site for future missions. The crew was requested to take the Moon’s gravitation and many other scientific measurements. In the evening of Christmas Eve, which was during the ninth orbit, the astronauts took turns to recite the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis for a live broadcast to Earth. The final analysis of the Apollo 8 flight would place it as one of the most successful by achieving all of its objectives. The crew was rewarded with gold medals presented by President L. B. Johnson, and feted with a ticker tape parade down New York’s Broadway Avenue.     

On July 20 1969 Apollo II landed on the Moon. Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. Aldrin stepped out from the Lunar Module. The World watched in awe, witnessing this ultimate achievement and fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s goal. That said, in reference to Kennedy’s goal, some NASA officials and many Astronauts believed that the boldest venture and a giant leap, as one NASA official would say, “A flight of one’s spiritual and moral resolve”. This was regarded as the greatest achievement to push America’s space exploration. Credit to Apollo 8 and crew, for their successful flight, and recognized as the mission of firsts are as follows:

1. The first human space flight to leave the orbit of the Earth.
2. The first to be captured by and escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body.
3. The first crew to voyage and then return to planet earth from another celestial body (Earth’s Moon).
4. The first humans to see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes.
5. The first to see planet Earth from beyond Earth orbit.
6. The first manned launch of a Saturn V Rocket.

It is interesting to note that during preparations and training before liftoff of Apollo 8, Armstrong and Aldrin were two of the backup crew.

Figure 3 illustrates a First Day Cover produced by NASA Manned Spacecraft Center Stamp Club. The cachet depicts the Earth and Moon with a dark trail indicating the orbiting flight around both planets which became known as a figure 8 loop. Also shown are the names of the astronauts and dates when the flight occurred.

6-cent Apollo 8 Stamp

A Giant Step towards the Goal

By John Pollock

​On May 5, 1969 the post office department (POD) released the 6-cent Apollo 8 Moon Orbit commemorative stamp (Scott 1371) to honor the accomplishments of that mission. This mission involved a December 21, 1968 liftoff and a return to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii on December 27.

Figure 5 illustrates a Marg cover with the cachet showing a view of Earth from a Moon orbit. This FDC was used for advertising with a stuffer for that purpose. Part of the correspondence to the addressee states that the stamp “Shows what is probably the most famous, and certainly the most spectacular photograph ever taken. It was taken through a Carl Zeiss lens. Another example of why ZEISS IS THE GREAT NAME IN OPTICS.” It’s also interesting to note that the first Marg cover was produced for the 4-cent Project Mercury stamp (Scott 1193), another stamp commemorated for space accomplishments, which was detailed in a previous Ries’ Pieces article. 

                                       Ries' Pieces

Figure 1 illustrates the stamp which reflects the juxtaposition of a half Earth rising over the Moon viewed from the lunar orbiting spacecraft. The biblical words on the stamp are taken from the Book of Genesis, and were recited by the Astronauts as they circled the Moon. 

The stamp was released at a first day of issue ceremony at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. The design of the stamp was created by Leonard Buckley of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing after he studied photographs taken by the astronauts during their historic flight. The astronauts were Col. Frank Borman, USAF, Capt. James A. Lovell, USN, and Lt. Col. William A. Anders, USAF. The ceremony was attended by many distinguished guests that included Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, Director of NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, the Honorable George Bush and the Honorable Winton M. Blount, Postmaster General of the United States. Also in attendance were twenty-three astronauts. In a “First Days” article, Monte Eiserman called it a banner day event for cover collectors. According to “Mellone’s 2007 U.S. First Day Covers Catalogue & Checklist”, 908,634 FDCs were prepared by many cachet makers. Some of them are shown as follows:

As a follow-up end note to this article, figure 7 was part of an article taken from the March 22, 2009 edition of the Los Angeles Times, written by John Johnston a staff writer. The story goes that a lady named Nancy Evans, an employee of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in La Canada Flintridge California, a NASA contractor, and she an Archivist. In 1973, JPL sent Nancy to Washington D.C. to straighten out NASA’s archives. While there she recognized the need to protect over 2000 photographs that were taken during the space exploration of the Moon, figure 7 being one of them. Apparently these photos were scheduled to be destroyed until Nancy took a bold step, instituting a campaign to prevent their destruction. Her effort, convinced NASA that the photographs be kept for historical purposes.


Hansen, James R. FIRST MAN. The life of Neil A. Armstrong. Simon & Schuster.

Shepard, Alan & Slayton, Deke. MOON SHOT. Turner Publishing Inc.

Los Angeles Times. March 22, 2009.

Eiserman, M. A Journey into space, FIRST DAYS Jul. /Aug. 1974 Vol. 19 (4) p.13 

Online Articles

Figure 2 shows the cover of the FD ceremony program with a simple design which could be representative of all of the Apollo flights that orbited the Earth, the Moon, and a return to Earth. Of the two lines tying the planets together shown in the cachet, one represents the flight to the Moon and the other for the return voyage.

Figure 4 shows an Artmaster cover depicting the symbolic route orbiting the Moon and Earth, and another example of the figure 8 loop, titled APOLLO MISSION.

Figure 6 portrays a naval event cover franked by the Apollo 8 stamp. This cover was prepared by cachet maker Tazewell G. Nicholson for the visiting British nuclear submarine, HMS VALIANT (S 102).  Nicholson is known to be the longest continuously active sponsor/servicer/printer of cacheted naval covers according to the Naval Cover Cachet Maker Catalog, published by the Universal Ship Cancellation Society. He produced cacheted covers from 1935 to 1988. During that time he sponsored/serviced in excess of 1,800 cachets/covers. 

Figure 7 shows a photograph of Earth rise which was taken in 1966, during the unmanned Lunar Orbiters missions 1 through 5 taken prior to Astronaut Ander’s photo of December 1968. The caption reads: NASA Lunar Orbiter Recovery Project. EARTHRISE: The original 1966 image was on the verge of being thrown away, but a determined archivist stepped in.