Frank Borman, the leader of the initial Apollo journey to the moon, passes away at the age of 95.
Frank Borman, the astronaut who led the Christmas 1968 mission of Apollo 8, which orbited the moon 10 times and laid the foundation for the moon landing in the subsequent year, has passed away at the age of 95.
According to NASA, Borman passed away on Tuesday in Billings, Montana. He went on to lead Eastern Airlines during a tumultuous time in the 1970s and 1980s after his departure from the astronaut program.
However, his Nasa responsibilities were what he was most renowned for. Along with his team members James Lovell and William Anders, he was part of the initial Apollo mission to journey to the moon and witness the Earth as a remote orb in the vastness of space.
“Today we remember one of Nasa’s best. Astronaut Frank Borman was a true American hero,” Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement on Thursday. “His lifelong love for aviation and exploration was only surpassed by his love for his wife, Susan.”
On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The team of three astronauts spent three days journeying to the moon and successfully entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. They completed 10 orbits on December 24-25 before departing on December 27.
During Christmas Eve, the astronauts delivered a live broadcast from the orbiter where they read from the Bible’s book of Genesis. The passage they shared was, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Borman ended the broadcast with: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Lovell and Borman had previously flown together during the two-week Gemini 7 mission, which launched on 4 December 1965 – and, at only 120 feet apart, completed the first space orbital rendezvous with Gemini 6.
Borman stated in a 1998 interview with the Associated Press that the Gemini mission was challenging. He compared the spacecraft’s size to being smaller than a front seat of a Volkswagen Bug and made the Apollo mission seem like a luxurious and spacious touring bus.
According to the autobiography “Countdown” by Borman, the original plan for Apollo 8 was to orbit Earth. However, after the successful Apollo 7 mission in October 1968, which demonstrated the reliability of long duration flights, NASA decided it was time to attempt a journey to the moon.
However, Borman claimed that there was an additional motive for NASA’s alteration of the plan: they wanted to surpass Russia. He also stated that he believed one orbit would be enough.
During a 2017 event in Chicago, Borman stated that his top priority during the flight was to beat the Russians and make it back home. He saw this as a major accomplishment.
On their fourth rotation, the crew took a photo of Earth rising above the gray surface of the moon. The photo, known as “Earthrise”, captured the blue and white colors of our planet.
Borman described his perspective on the Earth from a distance, stating that he and his fellow humans were the first to witness its breathtaking entirety. The experience was deeply moving for each of them, and though they did not speak, Borman was certain they were all thinking of their loved ones on the rotating planet. He also speculated that they may have all considered the possibility that this is how God views the world.
Following his time at Nasa, Borman transitioned into the business world in 1970 by joining Eastern Airlines, which was the fourth-largest airline in the United States at the time. He later rose to the positions of president and CEO of Eastern, and in 1976, he also took on the role of chairman of the board.
While working at Eastern, Borman witnessed a significant rise in fuel costs and the deregulation of the airline industry by the government. This led to the company facing financial struggles, accumulating debt, and experiencing conflicts with labor unions. As a result, Borman stepped down from his position in 1986 and relocated to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Borman shared in his memoir that his interest in flying sparked during his teenage years, as he and his father bonded over building model planes. At 15 years old, he funded flying lessons with the money he earned from working as a bag boy and gas station attendant after school. After eight hours of joint training, he completed his first independent flight. Borman remained an active pilot well into his nineties.
Borman was born in Gary, Indiana but grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1950 with a bachelor of science degree. In that same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Susan Bugbee. She passed away in 2021.
After graduating, Borman served as a fighter pilot, operational pilot, and instructor for the US Air Force. In 1956, he relocated his family to Pasadena, California and pursued a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. In 1962, Borman was selected as one of nine test pilots for Nasa’s astronaut program.
President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
In 1998, Borman established a ranch for cattle in Bighorn, Montana, alongside his son Fred. Along with Fred, he is also survived by his other son, Edwin, and their respective families.