Apollo 8 was the first mission to take humans to the Moon and back. An important prelude to actually landing on the Moon was testing the flight trajectory and operations for getting there and back. Apollo 8 did this and acheived many other firsts including the first manned mission launched on the Saturn V, first manned launch from NASA's new Moonport, first pictures taken by humans of the Earth from deep space, and first live TV coverage of the lunar surface.
Apollo 8 was launched from Cape Kennedy, Fla., at 7:50 a.m., EST, on December 21, 1968. Two hours 50 minutes later, translunar injection was performed; and astronauts Col. Frank Borman, the commander; Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., the command module pilot; and Major William A. Anders, the lunar module pilot, were on their way to the Moon.
The Spacecraft was placed in an elliptical lunar orbit at 69 hours 8 minutes after liftoff. After flying two elliptical orbits of 168.5 by 60 nautical miles with an inclination of 12 degrees to the Equator, the spacecraft was placed in a nearly circular orbit of 59.7 by 60.7 nautical miles in which it remained for eight orbits. Images of the lunar surface were transmitted for live television broadcast on Earth.
At 89 hours 19 minutes, transearth injection was performed from behind the Moon. A nearly flawless mission was completed on the morning of December 27 when splashdown occurred in the Pacific Ocean after a total elapsed time of 147 hours.
The primary purpose of this mission was to further progress toward the goal of landing men on the Moon by gaining operational experience and testing the Apollo system. However, a great effort was also made to accomplish worthwhile scientific tasks with photography and visual information by the astronauts.
From NASA SP-201, Analysis of Apollo 8 photography and visual observations.