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Dear Apollo 8: Save the year again

This Dec. 24, 1968, file photo made available by NASA shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. (William Anders/NASA via AP, File)

America 2018: War; Bitterly Divided Country; Assassination.

I lived through 1968 with the raging of the Vietnam War and how it bitterly divided the country as well as the assassinations of Kennedy and King. It was a never-ending news cycle of horrific images and events.

1968 was a horrible year — and NASA’s Apollo 8 mission to the Moon saved it when the astronauts took their fabled Earthrise picture and read from Genesis on Christmas Eve.

See a recreated video of the moment when the crew first saw and photographed the Earth rising, courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

Using photo mosaics and elevation data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), this video commemorates Apollo 8’s historic flight by recreating the moment when the crew first saw and photographed the Earth rising from behind the Moon. Narrator Andrew Chaikin, author of “A Man on the Moon,” sets the scene for a three-minute visualization of the view from both inside and outside the spacecraft accompanied by the on-board audio of the astronauts.

Humanity paused and became self-aware of its place in space — and how beautiful and lonely it is in the vast blackness.

Fifty years later, as 2018 comes to a close, America has once again suffered through an unrelenting news cycle — 24 hours a day now, as opposed to the three TV channels of 1968 that shut down at midnight — of war(s), a bitterly divided nation and a foreign government assassination of a The Washington Post journalist.

Time Magazine’s “Men of the Year” in 1968 was the crew of Apollo 8. In 2018 it is “The Guardians And The War On Truth” — another indicator of the wretchedness that is 2018.

As Christmas Eve arrives, the U.S. and the world could use an uplift once again. Remembering Apollo 8 and looking to humanity’s upcoming return to the Moon might help.

This Christmas Eve, there are no humans in lunar orbit. There are instead two missions from countries that have had significant differences here on Earth in 2018, and are likely to be in direct competition with regard to the Moon: China and the U.S.

China’s Chang’e 4 mission is preparing for a daring landing on the far side of the Moon, targeted for early January of the new year, to take full advantage of sunlight for power. If the mission is successful, China will share the scientific results with the world — hopefully.

China is also expected to launch its Chang’e 5 mission in 2019, a lunar sample return mission to the nearside of the Moon. This would be the first lunar sample return since the U.S.S.R. Luna 24 mission in 1976.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is entering its 10th year of lunar exploration and still going strong. LRO has provided lunar scientists a wealth of new data and photographs — LRO has rewritten the book on the Moon several times over. It will be able to photograph in detail Chang’e 4 on the Moon and provide valuable information on its location and surroundings — something the Chinese should be interested in.

As NASA prepares for its own return to the Moon’s surface and lunar orbit in the coming years, we may see a return to what was happening 50 years ago between the U.S. and former U.S.S.R.: a space race for the Moon. It was this very space race that was the true genesis for the mission of Apollo 8.

Are we bound to repeat history in this regard between the U.S. and China? Currently, Congress forbids space cooperation with China but yet we are partners with Russia — yes, THAT Russia — on the International Space Station.

What will it be, new Congress? Competition or cooperation in space with the Chinese?

Christmas Eve 2018, the Moon will be brightly visible in the night sky around the world. It still beckons us amid the chaos and violence of this year as it did 50 years ago with Apollo 8. Imagine an Earth where humanity gained some unity around one purpose: the peaceful exploration and colonization of the Moon.

The concept of a “Moon Village,” where the Nations of the world cooperate together with regard to the Moon, has taken a significant step forward with the creation of the Moon Village Association (MVA).

The MVA had a successful 2018 conference and is actively working to fulfill its goal of “the creation of a permanent global informal forum for stakeholders like governments, industry, academia and the public interested in the development of the Moon Village.”

At 50 years, to me the legacy of Apollo 8 is that space makes us attempt daring things as a result of — and regardless of — earthly human events. Let us hope and collectively strive for once again being so daring.

Follow me at Twitter @skyguyinva and my daily blog at www.whatsupthespaceplace.com to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email me at skyguyinva@gmail.com.