This Day In History : December 21

1968 United States

Apollo 8 Astronauts Become First Humans to Orbit the Moon

On December 21, 1968, NASA launched Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit the Moon. After completing ten orbits, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders safely returned to Earth on December 27. During their mission, they captured the iconic “Earthrise” photograph, showcasing Earth rising above the lunar horizon, which became a symbol of the mission's success and the unity of our planet.

Also on This Day in History December 21

Discover what happened on December 21 with HISTORY's summaries of major events, anniversaries,
famous births and notable deaths.

Births on This Day, December 21
  • 1868 George W. Fuller

    George Warren Fuller was an American engineer who was an industry pioneer in the purification of water for drinking, and the treatment of sewage.

  • 1805 Thomas Graham

    Scottish physical chemist who is often referred to as “the father of colloid chemistry.”

  • 1821 Samuel Haughton

    Irish physicist and geologist who was a Victorian polymath with interests in fields as diverse as mathematics, geology, the age of the earth, animal mechanics, hydrostatics, chemistry.

  • 1904 Thomas Bacon

    English mechanical engineer who pioneered the first modern hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells, which electrochemically convert air and fuel directly into electricity.

  • 1898 Ira Sprague Bowen

    Ira Sprague Bowen was an American physicist and astronomer. In 1927 he discovered that nebulium was not really a chemical element but instead doubly ionized oxygen.

Deaths on This Day, December 21
  • 1990 Kelly Johnson

    Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson was an American aeronautical engineer who introduced introduced innovative designs.

  • 1956 Lewis M. Terman

    Lewis M(adison) Terman was a U.S. psychologist who pioneered individual intelligence tests.

  • 1960 Eric Temple Bell

    Scottish-American mathematician and writer who contributed to analytic number theory (in which he found several inportant theorems), Diophantine analysis and numerical functions.

  • 1988 Curt Paul Richter

    American psychobiologist who discovered the body's biorhythms and identified the part of the brain that controls daily cycles of sleeping, waking and other activities.

  • 2009 Edwin G. Krebs

    Edwin Gerhard Krebs was an American biochemist who shared (with Edmond H. Fischer) the 1992 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.


First SpaceX rocket vertical ground landing

In 2015, SpaceX both launched a rocket and, for this company’s first first time, gently landed the first stage at Cape Canaveral.

HMS Challenger expedition

In 1872, HMS Challenger sailed from Portsmouth, England, on the first expedition organized and funded for a specific scientific purpose.

Fourier series

In 1807, Fourier's memoir On the Propagation of Heat in Solid Bodies, was read to the Paris Institute, an important mathematical work, containing what we now call Fourier series, which he had worked upon since around 1804.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is a United Nations convention. A third-generation human rights instrument, the Convention commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. The convention was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly on 21 December 1965,[8] and entered into force on 4 January 1969.
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