The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite and is the fifth largest satellite in the Solar System. It is the largest natural satellite in the Solar System relative to the size of its planet, a quarter the diameter of Earth and 1/81 its mass, and is the second densest satellite after Io. It is in synchronous rotation with Earth, always showing the same face; the near side is marked with dark volcanic maria among the bright ancient crustal highlands and prominent impact craters. It is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun, although its surface is actually very dark, with a similar reflectance to coal. Its prominence in the sky and its regular cycle of phases have since ancient times made the Moon an important cultural influence on language, the calendar, art and mythology. The Moon's gravitational influence produces the ocean tides and the minute lengthening of the day. The Moon's current orbital distance, about thirty times the diameter of the Earth, causes it to be the same size in the sky as the Sun—allowing the Moon to cover the Sun precisely in total solar eclipses.
Apollo 8 was the second manned mission of the Apollo space program. Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to travel beyond Earth orbit and into an orbit around the Moon. It was also the first manned launch of the Saturn Vrocket. NASA prepared for the mission in only four months. The hardware involved had only been used a few times—the Saturn V had only launched twice before, and the Apollo spacecraft had only just finished its first manned mission, Apollo 7. However the success of the mission paved the way for the successful completion of John F. Kennedy's goal of landing on the Moon before the end of the decade. After launching on December 21, 1968, the crew took three days to travel to the Moon, which they orbited for twenty hours. While in lunar orbit they made a Christmas Eve television broadcast that is thought to be one of the most watched of all time.
Astronaut James B. Irwin, lunar module pilot, gives a military salute while standing beside the deployed U.S. flag during the Apollo 15 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site.