Great Beginnings Day, December 27: Darwin, Apollo

December 27 is one of those days — many of us are off work, but it’s after Boxing Day, and it’s not yet on to New Year’s Eve or Day. We should have celebrated, maybe.

We should celebrate December 27 as a day of portent: A good embarkation, and a good, safe end to a nation-encouraging trip to almost touch the Moon.

HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship

HMS Beagle, on a voyage of discovery

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle set sail on an around-the-world voyage of discovery that would change all of science, and especially biology, forever.

December 27 1831
After a few delays, H.M.S. Beagle headed out from Plymouth with a crew of 73 under clear skies and a good wind. Darwin became sea-sick almost immediately.

Darwin never fully overcame his seasickness, but he fought it well enough to become the single greatest collector of specimens in history for the British Museum and British science, a distinction that won him election to science societies even before his return from the trip — and cemented his life in science, instead of in the church. Darwin’s discoveries would have revolutionized biology in any case. In analyzing what he had found, a few years later and with the aid of experts at the British Museum, Darwin realized he had disproved much of William Paley’s hypotheses about life and its diversity, and that another, more basic explanation was possible. This led to his discovery of evolution by natural and sexual selection.

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail in 2009 honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

On December 27, 1968, Apollo 8 splashed down after a successful and heartening trip to orbit the Moon. The three crewmen, Commander Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, had orbited the Moon, a very important milestone in the methodological race to put humans on the Moon (which would be accomplished seven months later). 1968 was a terrible year for the U.S., with the North Korean capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo, assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign, riots in dozens of American cities, nasty political conventions with riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, a contentious and bitter election making sore the nation’s divide over Vietnam policy, and other problems. On Christmas Eve, Borman, Lovell and Anders broadcast from orbit around the Moon, a triumphant and touching moment for the Apollo Program and Americans around the world. Their safe return on December 27 raised hopes for a better year in 1969. has a great write up from Alex Pasternack:

In 1968, NASA engineers were scrambling to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon by decade’s end. Because delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program, NASA chose to change mission plans and send the crew of Apollo 8 all the way to the moon without a lunar module.

Exactly 43 years ago, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit another celestial object. As they came around the dark side of the Moon for the third time, Frank Borman, the commander, finally turned their capsule around. And then they saw the Earth.

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…

One of the resulting photos taken by Anders on a Hasselblad camera became one of the world’s most iconic images.

As Bill Anders recalls it:

I just happened to have one with color film in it and a long lens. All I did was to keep snapping… It’s not a very good photo as photos go, but it’s a special one. It was the first statement of our planet Earth and it was particularly impressive because it’s contrasted against this startling horizon… After all the training and studying we’d done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back, [and] as human beings to explore moon orbit, what we really discovered was the planet Earth.

Yeah, we missed toasting it on time in 2010. Plan to raise a glass today, December 27, 2011, to Great Beginnings Day for the human race. December 27 is a day we should remember, for these achievements.

Also on December 27:

  • 1927 – “Show Boat” with music by Jerome Kern and libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II, opened at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City (AP)
  • 1932 – Radio City Music Hall opened for the first time, with a stage that, to me, looks like an old radio (AP)
  • 1945 – The World Bank was formed under the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, a key part of world finance structure following World War II
  • 1949 – Indonesia gained independence in a grant from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; Netherlands had ruled Indonesia for three centuries

Adapted from a post from 2010.

8 Responses to Great Beginnings Day, December 27: Darwin, Apollo

  1. Jim, there’s a word we use up here in Minnesota to describe people like Mr. Barton but I’m afraid if I used it Ed would have to remove the post.

    Suffice it to say, those types of people tend to make a clucking sound.


  2. Jim says:


    Do you ever actually interact with anyone here? Or is the “hit & run” style of posting (which is cowardice, essentially) your general m.o.?

    I haven’t don’t a thorough search, but I have yet to see you attempt to debate.

    If I am correct, it’s quite telling…


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Spiritually related, if not by blood.

    Actually Robert Barton has been willing to change his website to accommodate new learnings of science and the Bible — he may not be too closely related to the other Barton.


  4. Ediacaran says:

    Is Robert any relation to that Fundamentalist faux historian from Texas so beloved by the GOP, or that imbecile politician from Texas who asked a Nobel Scientist a question so stupid during a hearing that the scientist laughed out loud? The creationist politician, a.k.a. the ‘Menace from Ennis’, even had a video of the exchange posted on YouTube, cluelessly supposing he had stumped the scientist, who gave the pol a brief explanation of Plate Tectonics suitable for a 2nd grader; apparently it was still unfathomable to Barton.


  5. I have a question for you, Robert. You don’t use modern medicine right? After all, the theory of evolution forms the basis of modern biology and medicine is a subset of that.

    So you refrain from using modern medicine right?

    Actually Ed that’s not a bad idea. Creationists/ID’ers should not be allowed to use the benefits of what Robert here calls a ridiculous theory…


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Darwin’s “ridiculous” theories got us the russet potato, an understanding of cancers and treatments and cures for some of them, an understanding of viruses and why and how vaccines work along with new methods to speed vaccine development, beef, artichokes, grapefruit, corn (maize), wheat, bacon, apple pie, understanding of the development of influenza and how to prevent it, and fascinating tales from researchers working in evolution.

    Had Darwin said “God revealed it to me,” he’d be worshipped as a saint greater than Peter, by Christians today.

    We need more “ridiculous” like that. We could use better understanding, or at least study, of evolution on the part of so-called Christians who claim the science doesn’t work.


  7. Oh look, Robert is back and he still has no bloody clue what he’s talking about.

    Only the ignorant would see it as a day of mourning. One who’s faith in God is so pathetically weak, Robert, that it’s threatened by a scientific theory. One who simply can’t give God credit for how God actually did things.


  8. I could see it as a day of mourning as a because of Darwin’s ridiculous theories.


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