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Meet Frank Borman, the Apollo astronaut who didn’t give a crap about space

Terrifying prospects of death aside, you’d think going into space would be a pretty amazing experience.

Never mind that hundreds of people in human history have travelled beyond our Earthly realm since Yuri Gagarin became the first of us all the way back in 1961, it’s still an awesome achievement.

Yet one man was pretty nonplussed about the whole thing.

Frank Borman was part of the Apollo 8 mission, the very first crew of humans to do a pass of the moon. You might remember it from the movie Apollo 13 – it was the mission Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) had been part of which didn’t land on our closest neighbour but got closer than anyone ever had until that point in history.

For the record, the third member of the crew was William A. Anders (the three can be seen in our featured image: Lovell, Anders and Borman, left to right).

So what does Borman, now aged 90, think of it all when reflecting on his history-creating mission?

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is – as he told reporter David Kestenbaum on a recent episode of This American Life – “I’m probably the worst [person to have gone to the Moon].”

His description of the Moon wasn’t so much dispassionate as bored: “Oh, devastation. Meteor craters, no color at all. Just different shades of gray.”

In fact, his motivation for becoming an astronaut had nothing to do with going to space – he just wanted to make sure America’s No.1 enemy of the day didn’t beat them.

“I was there because it was a battle in the Cold War. I wanted to participate in this American adventure of beating the Soviets,” he said.

“But that’s the only thing that motivated me – beat the damn Russians.”

Borman said if there was one thing he enjoyed about his trip to the Moon, it was looking back at Earth.

“It’s 240,000 miles away. It was small enough you could cover it with your thumbnail,” Borman explains in a short film about his mission.

“The dearest things in life that were back on the Earth – my family, my wife, my parents. They were still alive then. That was, for me, the high point of the flight from an emotional standpoint.”

Borman said the feeling of weightlessness was neat for “maybe for the first 30 seconds. Then it became accepted.”

And when he arrived home, he barely spoke to his family about the experience at all. “The last thing on my mind was talking about what the Moon looked like,” he said. “Nobody asked!”

However, while he may not have had the words of a poet, he and his crew did have a camera, with which they captured what photographer Galen Rowell has called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”.

Earth Rise

It’s a little snap known as Earth Rise – the first time anyone had taken a photo of the planet from the Moon.

As Kestenbaum put it, “It’s like the first selfie of us all, the whole planet, and it’s remarkable. It’s exactly other worldly. Humans have been watching the moon rise from the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. This was the first time someone had seen the reverse – us, our planet, rising over the moon’s horizon.”

About the author

Joe was Junior Vice-President at Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net until it was bought out by Bill Gates. He now subedits for Conversant Media and considers it a step up.

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Comments (1)


    Tuesday 26 February 2019

    Of all the Apollo astronauts, Frank Borman is the one who, when you scan the official mission portraits, looks the most like an asshole. Of course, you can’t judge a person from a couple of photos. It’s certainly honest of Borman to admit he was all about beating the Russians, despite the fact that the entire enterprise transcends such small-minded concerns.

    The series From the Earth to the Moon is quite generous and sympathetic in its portrayal of the astronauts. Borman is depicted as someone who expresses annoyance that Bill Anders is looking out the window, and he snaps at Jim Lovell as Jim is calibrating using the stars.