Frank Borman, the astronaut in charge of Apollo 8’s groundbreaking orbit around the moon in December 1968, which set the stage for the successful moon landing the following year, passed away at the age of 95 in Billings, Montana.
According to NASA, Borman passed away on Tuesday in Billings, Montana.
After departing from the astronaut program, Borman went on to lead Eastern Airlines during a tumultuous period in the 1970s and early 1980s.
However, his primary claim to fame was his work with NASA. Alongside his colleagues James Lovell and William Anders, he embarked on the first Apollo mission to journey to the moon and witness the Earth as a distant orb in the universe.
On Thursday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released a statement honoring the memory of one of NASA’s most esteemed members, astronaut Frank Borman. Borman was considered a true hero of the United States, with a deep passion for aviation and exploration that was only matched by his love for his wife Susan.
On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 team departed from Cape Canaveral in Florida. They journeyed for three days to reach the moon and successfully entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. Following 10 rotations around the moon on December 24-25, they began their return trip on December 27.
The astronauts broadcasted a live reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve from the orbiter. The passage they read was: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep.”
Borman concluded the transmission with the words, “And on behalf of the Apollo 8 crew, we bid you good night, best wishes, a joyful Christmas, and may God bless all of you – those on the beautiful Earth.”
Lovell and Borman had previously collaborated on the Gemini 7 mission, which took off on December 4, 1965. During this two-week mission, they successfully completed the first space orbital rendezvous with Gemini 6 while being only 120 feet apart.
In 1998, Borman told The Associated Press that Gemini was a challenging experience. He compared the spacecraft to the size of a Volkswagen bug’s front seat, making Apollo seem like a luxurious touring bus in comparison.
According to Borman’s autobiography, “Countdown,” the initial plan for Apollo 8 was to orbit around Earth. However, after the successful mission of Apollo 7 in October 1968, which demonstrated the reliability of the system for extended flights, NASA decided to attempt a journey to the moon.
However, Borman cited a different motive for NASA’s decision to alter the plan: the agency’s desire to outpace the Russians. He believed that one orbit would be enough.
Borman shared at a 2017 event in Chicago that his top priority during the flight was to beat the Russians and return home first. He considered this a noteworthy accomplishment.
During the crew’s fourth orbit, Anders captured the famous “Earthrise” image, depicting a blue and white Earth emerging from the gray surface of the moon.
Borman described the view of Earth from a distance, stating that he and his team were the first people to witness its grandeur in its entirety. It was a deeply emotional moment for each of them, and although they did not speak, Borman was certain that their thoughts were the same – thinking of their loved ones on the rotating planet. He also pondered if they all shared the same realization, that this is what God sees.
Following his time at NASA, Borman transitioned into the business world in 1970 by becoming a member of Eastern Airlines, which was the fourth largest airline in the country at the time. He worked his way up to become the president and CEO of Eastern, and in 1976 was also appointed as the chairman of the board.
During his time at Eastern, Borman experienced a significant rise in fuel prices and the government’s decision to deregulate the airline industry. This resulted in the airline becoming more financially unstable, burdened by debt, and facing conflicts with labor unions. Borman ultimately stepped down from his position in 1986 and relocated to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
According to his memoir, Borman’s interest in flying developed during his teenage years, as he and his father built model airplanes together. At the age of 15, he started taking flying lessons, using money he had earned from working as a bag boy and gas station attendant after school. After eight hours of instruction, he completed his first solo flight. Borman continued to fly well into his 90s.
Borman was born in Gary, Indiana, but was raised in Tucson, Arizona. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1950. That same year, Borman married his high school sweetheart, Susan Bugbee. She died in 2021.
Borman served as a fighter pilot, operational pilot, and instructor for the U.S. Air Force after graduating from West Point. In 1956, he relocated to Pasadena, California with his family and obtained a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. In 1962, Borman was selected as one of nine test pilots to join NASA’s astronaut program.
President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
In 1998, Borman established a ranch for raising cattle in Bighorn, Montana, alongside his son Fred. He is also survived by his other son, Edwin, and their respective families.