In a poignant loss for the space exploration community, Astronaut Frank Borman, the revered commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon, has died at the age of 95. Borman’s legacy extends far beyond the boundaries of Earth, marking a pivotal moment in space history.
Borman passed away in Billings, Montana, as confirmed by NASA on Tuesday. Though he later led Eastern Airlines in the 1970s and early ’80s, it is his role as the commander of Apollo 8 that solidified his status as a space exploration icon.
Launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on December 21, 1968, alongside crew members James Lovell and William Anders, Borman and his team embarked on a groundbreaking mission that circled the moon ten times, laying the groundwork for subsequent lunar landings.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson paid tribute, stating, “Today we remember one of NASA’s best. Astronaut Frank Borman was a true American hero. His lifelong love for aviation and exploration was only surpassed by his love for his wife Susan.”
The Apollo 8 trio spent three days traveling to the moon before slipping into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. On December 24-25, they circled the moon 10 times before heading back to Earth on December 27.
A memorable moment from their mission occurred on Christmas Eve when the astronauts, in a live telecast from the orbiter, read from the Book of Genesis: “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 concluded the broadcast with a heartfelt wish, “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.”
Reflecting on the mission, Borman wrote in his autobiography, “We were the first humans to see the world in its majestic totality, an intensely emotional experience for each of us.”
Borman’s dedication to aviation and exploration continued beyond his astronaut days. After leaving NASA, he joined Eastern Airlines in 1970, eventually becoming its president and CEO. His tenure saw challenges with fuel prices, industry deregulation, and labor tensions, culminating in his resignation in 1986.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Borman’s passion for flying blossomed in his teens. He joined the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, and became one of NASA’s original nine astronauts in 1962.
A recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter, Borman’s contributions to space exploration and his enduring fascination with flight left an indelible mark. In his later years, he started a cattle ranch in Bighorn, Montana, emphasizing a life dedicated to exploration and the pursuit of new frontiers. Frank Borman is survived by his sons, Fred and Edwin, and their families, following the passing of his wife Susan in 2021.