"The number of US troops killed in action in Vietnam had surged past 30,000". Protests roiled the Democratic National Convention. America in 1968 had already experienced so much anguish - the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, race riots in USA cities, the bloody Tet offensive in Vietnam.
Fifty years ago Monday, Dec. 24, 1968, three astronauts saw a view of Earth that no human had seen before. "The urgency created by the Soviet Union's efforts to reach the moon forced NASA to compress the time frame and take a number of calculated gambles".
Sauvante, then 20, stood on the deck of the USS Arlington in his "dress whites" and saluted the Apollo 8 astronauts after they were plucked by helicopter from the Pacific Ocean.
NASA is now planning to send humans back to the lunar surface 46 years after Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon.
That launch took place on December 21, 1968. Look at that picture over there.
His crew left behind a plaque bearing the inscription: Here, men from planet earth first set foot upon the moon, We came in peace for all mankind. "Wow that's pretty!" Anders said on his radio headset in 1968. But to Borman, only one first really mattered: "What I wanted to do was go to the moon and come back alive, because I knew that would beat the Russians". He took a few more shots, then went back to business.
"I don't know who said it, maybe all of us said, 'Oh my God".
To this day, that 1968 mission is considered to be NASA's boldest and perhaps most unsafe undertaking. It wasn't a big emotional event.
"Apollo 8 was one of the signal "giant leaps" of the Apollo program, much like the earlier successful test launches of the Saturn booster, and the coming mission of Apollo 11 to land on the moon". Too often forgotten are the missions that came just before the boots on the ground, the ambitious dress rehearsals that were death-defying, hold-you-breath moments in their own right.
It wasn't just the crew of Apollo 8 that reflected during the flight.
In December 1968, Anders, along with crewmates Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a Saturn V, before completing 10 orbits around the Moon.
They call it the "overview effect" - the feeling that astronauts have when they look down on the Earth and appreciate the fragility of the planet, the thin skin of atmosphere wrapped around this uniquely wet and diverse celestial body. That meant they could watch, at last, as their home planet rose above the bleak lunar plains. But the well-known Earthrise image was actually the second image taken of the Earth rising above the lunar limb - it was just the first in color. The idea of a Spaceship Earth, with its interdependent ecologies and finite resources, became an icon of a growing environmental movement concerned with the ecological impacts of industrialization and population growth.
Speak to astronauts who have travelled to space, from the original missions all the way up to current day, and there is one overwhelming consensus: Going into space changes your perception of the world - literally, but also fundamentally.