Frank Borman: astronaut who led the first flight to the Moon on Apollo 8 dies aged 95
Frank Borman commanded Apollo 8's Christmas 1968 flight that circled the Moon 10 times
Astronaut Frank Borman, who commanded Apollo 8's Christmas 1968 flight that circled the Moon 10 times and paved the way for the following year's Moon landing, had died aged 95, on Tuesday 7 November in Billings, Montana, NASA said.
Paying tribute to the trailblazer and "one of NASA's best," the space agency's administrator Bill Nelson said: "Astronaut Frank Borman was a true American hero. His lifelong love for aviation and exploration was only surpassed by his love for his wife Susan."
The Apollo 8 mission was historic, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 21 December 1968 with his crew, James Lovell and William Anders. They spent three days travelling to the moon before joining lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, and circled the Moon 10 times on 24 and 25 December, before beginning their journey home on 27 December.
A live telecast on Christmas Eve saw the astronauts read from the Bible's Book of Genesis, saying: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep."
Ending the broadcast, Borman said: "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."
In his book, Countdown: An Autobiography, Borman said Apollo 8 was originally supposed to orbit Earth but plans changed after the success of Apollo 7’s mission in October 1968 showed system reliability on long-duration flights, so Nasa thought it was time to fly to the Moon. Another reason was Nasa wanted to beat Russia. “My main concern in this whole flight was to get there ahead of the Russians and get home. That was a significant achievement in my eyes,” Borman said during a Chicago appearance in 2017.
But Borman also talked about how the Earth looked from space. He wrote: “We were the first humans to see the world in its majestic totality, an intensely emotional experience for each of us. We said nothing to each other, but I was sure our thoughts were identical – of our families on that spinning globe. And maybe we shared another thought I had: ‘This must be what God sees.’"
After Nasa, Borman worked for Eastern Airlines - at the time the US’s fourth-largest airline, and soon became Eastern’s president and CEO and in 1976 also became chair of the board. He resigned in 1986 and moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Borman's wife Susan was his childhood sweetheart, who he married in 1950, and who died in 2021. Borman was born in Gary, Indiana, but was raised in Tucson, Arizona and attended the US Military Academy at West Point, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1950.
In 1962, he was one of nine test pilots chosen by Nasa for the astronaut programme and later received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter. In 1998, Borman started a cattle ranch in Bighorn, Montana, with his son Fred. He is survived by another son, Edwin, and their families.