My next project

The next year, 1968, was a rough one in the United States.

Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had both been murdered.

There were riots and major American cities were on fire, literally.

Every day newspapers carried the names of young American soldiers who were being killed in the war in Vietnam.

People were marching outside the White House chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today.”

Before the end of the year, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he’d had enough, he was quitting, and would not seek reelection.

The whole country was angry, frightened, and depressed.

As we neared the end of 1968 NASA realized that they only had one year left to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.”

So they decided to double up on their tests and they scheduled the scariest launch yet. They would use it to run two major tests, with live astronauts on board:

They would put 3 men on top of the rocket, strapped securely inside an Apollo capsule like the one three astronauts had died in the previous year.

Then, instead of just launching them into orbit, circling the earth a few times and bringing them back down, they would send the to the moon.

Not to land on the moon, just to circle the moon and come back home. Hopefully.
Once they got the schedule worked out, they realized that the astronauts would arrive at the moon on Christmas day.

That could make it the greatest Christmas celebration of our lifetime, or a Christmas that we would all want to forget.

It wasn’t until many years later that NASA confirmed what we all suspected:

They figured the odds that Apollo 8 would make it back to earth safely and that the crew would survive were no better than 50-50.

What we didn’t know at the time is that NASA asked the astronaut’s family members what they thought, and they were unanimous:

It is worth the risk – let’s go to the moon!

Naturally that was a picture I had to take.

So did Arch.

Arch decided if I could do it, so could he. He made arrangements to take a daylight time exposure of the Apollo 8 launch – in color – from on top of a tall building on the beach in Cocoa Beach.

The night before the launch, he called me, worried:

“It won’t work!”

I laughed and reminded him that it already had worked. “You saw the picture!”

“But you can’t reduce the light enough with two 4x neutral density filters,” he said. “Each filter only reduces the light by 2 f-stops.”

“You are right about that,” I agreed.

“So it wont work!”

“We aren’t using 4x filters,” I reminded him.

“We are using Polaroid 4s filters. The ‘S’ stands for ‘stop.’ Each Polaroid filter reduces the light by 4 f-stops.”

So while I went down to the Mather’s Bridge fish camp at the southern tip of Merritt Island the next morning, Arch went to the top of the tall building in Cocoa Beach. He insisted that he got a good picture. I asked him to show it to me. Through the years I asked him several times to show it to me.

He never did.

This time I used Ektacolor L film and the colors came out perfectly. That goes to show that I can learn from my mistakes.

Apollo 8 on the way to the Moon
Apollo 8 to the Moon