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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Rocket City celebrated the Apollo 8 mission in true holiday fashion Sunday. The US Space and Rocket Center had a Christmas program in honor of the successful mission.

On December 21, 1968, a Saturn V rocket launched, with the hopes of sending the first photograph of Earth back and orbiting the moon.

It took more than 60 hours for the spacecraft to reach the moon.

But what happened on December 24, 1968 is what people remember most about Apollo 8.

“It was a very scary time period, because we really didn’t know what would happen while we were unable to be in contact with the crew,” said NASA Astrobiologist Richard Hoover. “But then when they came out, they did this magnificent reading from the book of Genesis, and it was just a terribly, terribly exciting time.”

Sunday’s event included a prayer, live music and holiday carols and a unity candle lighting in honor of that moment.

Not to forget that 1968 was a trying year in American history, as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. In the midst of several civil rights movements, Hoover said Apollo 8 created a moment of unity.

“I think the moon orbit, the first human beings – not only pulled the people of America together, but pulled people of many nations together,” Hoover explained.  “This was a human accomplishment as much as it was an American accomplishment.”

The Saturn V rocket was developed in Huntsville at Marshall Space Flight Center, and Hoover said those who got to see it come to fruition, even with all the risks involved, said it was an unforgettable experience.

“It’s very exciting,” exclaimed Hoover. “Very very exciting. These accomplishments have meant so much for the people of Huntsville and for our nation in general.”