50 years have passed since NASA's Apollo 8 mission circled the moon for the first time - here is every Apollo mission explained
- NASA's Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s succeeded in putting the first humans on the moon.
- Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon, launched almost exactly 50 years ago - on December 21, 1968.
- Humans have not stepped foot on the moon in more than 45 years. But NASA plans to send robots to the lunar surface by 2022.
- Here's a full list of every Apollo mission and what they accomplished.
Nearly 50 years have passed since NASA's Apollo 8 mission orbited the moon for the first time in history.
On December 21, 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell left the Kennedy Space Center to fly around the moon. They spent 20 hours in lunar orbit, then returned home after more than six days in space.The Apollo 8 mission was a critical step toward achieving President John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon.
Nine other lunar missions followed Apollo 8, bringing a dozen men to the moon and gathering hundreds of pounds of rock and soil samples for analysis.
In almost five decades since then, however, no US spacecraft has landed on the lunar surface.
That may change in the next few years. In November, NASA announced that it was offering up to $2.6 billion in contracts to nine American companies that could land probes on the moon by 2022. NASA does not want to buy the lunar landers or take responsibility for launching, landing, or controlling them. Instead, the space agency wants the private sector to deal with those challenges and bid on the opportunity to take NASA's experiments to the moon.
In the meantime, take a look back at all of NASA's Apollo missions, which flew between 1968 and 1972 and succeeded in putting the first human on the moon.