December 21 is the 355th day of the year (356th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 10 days remaining until the end of the year. This is a frequent day for the winter solstice to occur in the northern hemisphere and summer solstice to occur in the southern hemisphere.
On this day in 1968, Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders aboard.
Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight to leave Earth orbit; the first to be captured by and escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body; and the first crewed voyage to return to planet Earth from another celestial body-Earth’s Moon. The three-man American crew of mission Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to directly see the far side of the Moon, as well as the first humans to see planet Earth from beyond low Earth orbit. The 1968 mission was accomplished with the first manned launch of a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 8 was the second manned mission of the Apollo program and the first manned launch from the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
Originally planned as a second Lunar Module/Command Module test in an elliptical medium Earth orbit in early 1969, the mission profile was changed in August 1968 to a more ambitious Command Module-only lunar orbital flight to be flown in December, because the Lunar Module was not ready to make its first flight then. This meant Borman’s crew was scheduled to fly two to three months sooner than originally planned, leaving them a shorter time for training and preparation, thus placing more demands than usual on their time and discipline.
After launching on December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. It orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo 8’s successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.
69 – The end of the Year of the four emperors: Following Galba, Otho and Vitellius, Vespasian becomes the fourth Emperor of Rome within a year.
1140 – Conrad III of Germany besieged
1598 – Battle of Curalaba: The revolting Mapuche, led by cacique Pelentaru, inflict a major defeat on Spanish troops in southern Chile.
1620 – Plymouth Colony: William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims land on what is now known as Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1832 – Egyptian-Ottoman War: Egyptian forces decisively defeat Ottoman troops at the Battle of Konya.
1844 – The Rochdale Pioneers commence business at their cooperative in Rochdale, England, starting the Cooperative movement.
1861 – Medal of Honor: Public Resolution 82, containing a provision for a Navy Medal of Valor, is signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln.
1872 – Challenger expedition: HMS Challenger, commanded by Captain George Nares, sails from Portsmouth.
1883 – The first Permanent Force cavalry and infantry regiments of the Canadian Army are formed: The Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment.
1913 – Arthur Wynne’s “word-cross”, the first crossword puzzle, is published in the New York World.
1937 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated film, premieres at the Carthay Circle Theater.
1941 – World War II: A formal treaty of alliance between Thailand and Japan is signed in the presence of the Emerald Buddha in Wat Phra Kaew.
1962 – Rondane National Park is established as Norway’s first national park.
1967 – Louis Washkansky, the first man to undergo a heart transplant, dies in Cape Town, South Africa, after living for 18 days after the transplant.
1968 – Apollo program: Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew performs the first ever manned Trans Lunar Injection and become the first humans to leave Earth’s gravity.
1969 – The Gay Activists Alliance is formed in New York City.
1969 – The United Nations adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
1970 – Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon meet in the White House.
1973 – The Geneva Conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict opens.
1979 – Lancaster House Agreement: An independence agreement for Rhodesia is signed in London by Lord Carrington, Sir Ian Gilmour, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and S.C. Mundawarara.
1988 – A bomb explodes on board Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, killing 270.
1992 – A Dutch DC-10, flight Martinair MP 495, crashes at Faro Airport, killing 56 people.
1994 – Mexican volcano Popocatepetl, dormant for 47 years, erupts gases and ash.
1995 – The city of Bethlehem passes from Israeli to Palestinian control.\
1999 – The Spanish Civil Guard intercepts a van loaded with 950 kg of explosives that ETA intended to use to blow up Torre Picasso in Madrid.
2004 – Iraq War: A suicide bomber killed 22 at the forward operating base next to the main U.S. military airfield at Mosul, the single deadliest suicide attack on American soldiers.
2012 – The world was predicted to end on December 21, 2012 according to some calendars.
2012 – The Walt Disney Company completed its acquisition of Lucasfilm and of the Star Wars franchise.
* Christian Feast Day:
o O Oriens
o Thomas the apostle (pre-1970 Roman Calendar)
* Earliest date for the winter solstice:
o Ziemassvetki (ancient Latvia)
* The first day of Pancha Ganapati, celebrated until December 25 (India)