Archive Letter: One Small Step

In this 1968 letter – a daring directive from Apollo programme leader George Mueller to Thomas Paine – a historic decision was made. Exactly one month after the launch of the Apollo 7 test flight, “NASA should undertake a lunar orbit mission as its next step.”

  • Photography: NASA

George Mueller, leader of the Apollo programme throughout the 1960s, had served as NASA’s associate administrator for manned space flight for five years when Apollo 8 launched on December 21st, 1968, as the second-ever human spaceflight carried out by the United States. Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of NASA’s proposal for Apollo 8 was that it would fly the same route to the moon as the later first lunar landing.

In this letter – a daring directive from Mueller to Thomas Paine – a historic decision was made. As he writes, exactly one month after the launch of the Apollo 7 test flight, “I believe that NASA should undertake a lunar orbit mission as its next step toward the manned lunar landing.” Weeks later, piloted by a three-strong crew of astronauts who were the first to see Earth as a whole planet, Apollo 8 became NASA’s first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.

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