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Col. Frank Borman Recalls Historic Apollo 8 Mission

Frank Borman
Frank Borman

December 18, 2008 — Forty years ago this month, Frank Borman, EAA 300174, served as commander of NASA’s Apollo 8 space mission to the Moon. That mission gave humankind its first close-up view of the lunar surface and the dark side of the Moon during the mission’s 10 lunar orbits.

In Oshkosh for aviation’s 105th birthday, December 17, 2008, Borman retold the story of his incredible experiences at the 6th annual Wright Brothers Memorial Dinner in the EAA AirVenture Museum’s Eagle Hangar. (Watch the video of Borman’s speech.)

The former astronaut and Air Force Colonel thrilled the audience with personal and often humorous recollections of the Apollo 8 mission, which took place December 21-27, 1968, and paved the pay for the first lunar landing seven months later. His crewmates were James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders.

Borman called the Apollo program a major battle of the Cold War. “We were at war, really, for the hearts and minds of people the world over,” he said. “And we won it.”

His most vivid memory of that mission was seeing his home planet, a solitary blue body amidst the blackness of space. “Looking back on the Earth was the high point of the mission,” he said. “It was Christmas Eve, and we were a long way from home, so that was the premiere point of the mission.” The crew famously read aloud from the Book of Genesis as an estimated 1 billion people listened around the world.

Borman also commanded the Gemini 7 mission of 1965 that included the first rendezvous of two spacecraft in orbit and tested the endurance of human’s in space.

“One of the characteristics of the American people – and I think it’s a virtue – is ‘Okay, we’ve done something tough, what’s next?’ We’re still looking around for that, probably going back to the Moon will be next, maybe even Mars.”

He said he was fortunate to be in NASA during the race to the moon. “It was a great organization with a mission, and everything was subordinate to the mission. That doesn’t happen often except in wartime. It was great to be there.”

Borman had his first-ever airplane ride at the age of five when his father took him up in a Waco at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, sitting side-by-side in the front seat with his dad. An aunt who worked at Wright Field knew some of the pilots there, including Albert Hegenberger, who was aboard the first successful trans-Pacific flight from Oakland, California, to Hawaii, in a Fokker F-2 trimotor. Hegenberger gave Borman’s aunt a model airplane and a copy of the 1930 children's book The Red Eagle for her nephew, which he still has.

“I read it and re-read it. Memorized it.”

As a youth, Borman, delivered newspapers in Tucson, Arizona, and one of the subscribers on his route was Orville Wright. Borman went on to earn his pilot certificate in high school, learning in a Taylorcraft ($9 an hour, including the instructor, he recalled), then joined a flying club and flew a Porterfield in 1943. He later enrolled at West Point to get into the Air Force and graduated from flight training there in 1951.

Borman, 81, has been a frequent visitor to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Following his retirement as CEO of Eastern Airlines, Borman moved to Las Cruces New Mexico, and began restoring vintage and warbird airplanes, several of which he’s flown to Oshkosh. Over the years his company has restored 17 aircraft.

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