Apollo 8 was the second successful manned flight of Project Apollo, the manned moon missions, and was an important proof of the technology and techniques needed for the later Apollo 11, being the first flight of the Saturn V rocket on a manned mission and the first manned circumlunar flight. Apollo 8 was crewed by Frank Borman, the Commander; Jim Lovell, the Command Module Pilot and William Anders, Command Module Pilot became the first humans to orbit around the Moon.
Apollo 8 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on December 21, 1968, and it took three days to travel to the Moon, which they orbited for 20 hours. While in lunar orbit the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read from Genesis 1:1-10 and wished the people of earth a Merry Christmas. This would be the most watched television broadcast in history to that date, though soon to be surpassed during the Apollo 11 flight in July, 1969.
Returning to earth required the craft to break lunar orbit by executing a rocket "burn" while on the far side of the moon, out of contact from earth. The mission controllers had to wait until the ship returned to view to see if it had been successful or had failed, leaving the crew stranded in lunar orbit. The vessel returned exactly as predicted; the burn had been successful. On regaining voice contact, Lovell joked: "Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus."
The mission returned to Earth on December 27.