Settle a family argument: Which went to the moon first, Apollo 8 or Apollo 11?

Tonight, I played with my family a game of Bezzerwizzer, a fun, although occasionally very easy, trivia board game. My mother received the question of “Which manned spacecraft was the first to go to the moon?” She answered correctly with Apollo 11, and after a brief discussion over the fact that the Apollo 11 was the mission not the spacecraft (Columbia and Eagle) we got into a new argument.

My father and I argued that Apollo 8, by going and orbiting the Moon were the first ones there. Key points: “You don’t have to get in the water to say you’ve been in the ocean,” and “If anyone asked where Apollo 8 was at the time, you would say they were at the moon.”
My sister and mother argued that since they didn’t land, Apollo 11 was the first to go to the moon. Key point: “You wouldn’t fly from New York to California and say you’ve been to all the states you flew over.”

So what say you Dopers? Settle this now before it turns into a feud that will tear us apart (or we forget until we play again next Christmas). And yes, I know we sent probes there first, I’m ignoring those.

I’ve read that some early mission plans were that the lunar module was going to land on the moon and collect samples but there were not plans for the astronauts to personally go outside. Eagle was going to essentially function like a bathysphere with the astronauts observing the moon from inside.

These plans were supposedly abandoned because people felt it wouldn’t “count” unless somebody left the module and stood on the moon.

Of course, even then, you can argue that neither Armstrong or Aldrin or any other astronaut was ever in contact with the moon. They remained inside the same space suits they had worn on Earth.

I agree with the female contingent of your family. I think a closer analogy would be connecting through an airport, or maybe driving an interstate highway without stopping, but I agree with their ideology. We didn’t “go” to the moon before Apollo 11. We simply drove by and took some pictures. It’s not the same thing.

If someone asked me if I’ve ever been to Colorado, I’d say no. Even though I’ve sat in DIA for more than a few hours over the years.


I think you do. Maybe you meant to say that you don’t have to get in the water to say you’ve been to the ocean. /pedant

However, you’re dead-nuts correct regarding mission versus spacecraft names. That’s just sloppy question writing. Shame on Bezzerwizzer for that one.

Of course you do. Otherwise you’ve only been to the beach.

Apollo 11 went to the moon first. Apollo 8 only went around it.

Hey I played this game yesterday too, and had the same question! My team guessed Saturn 5 though…

My response to the poll was that Apollo 8 was the first to go to the moon. It was in orbit around the moon, so I think it went there. If the question was the first on the moon, then it was Apollo 11.

I guess I could go along with that definition, but it poses problems for future space missions. Say we send a manned mission to another planet like Jupiter or Saturn. Would you say that they didn’t go “to” Jupiter because they didn’t land? There’s nowhere to land on a gas giant. What if they enter the atmosphere, would that count? But the moon doesn’t have an atmosphere.

It’s the wording that’s ambiguous. Apollo 8 went to the moon; Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

If Apollo 8 didn’t go to the moon, where did they go?

Around the moon. It’s like sailing around an island. You’ve gone around it, not onto it.

Yup, and due to the issues with space travel, there is a huge difference between orbiting something in space, and actually landing humans there, letting them fiddle around on the surface, and then returning them to Earth. Apollo 8 couldn’t have landed if they wanted to. They “just” got really really close and took pictures.

This was my first thought, but then I thought maybe he meant if you were in a boat on the ocean, you could say you were in the ocean. Although Apollo 8 wasn’t on the Moon in this sense, so it still doesn’t apply.

I picked Apollo 8 but if I had been playing this game I would have accepted either Apollo 8 or Apollo 11 as a correct answer. The question wasn’t worded as well as it could have been.

You can argue the semantics of this literally forever (I know at least one guy personally who probably would). I can’t help but think about it in terms of the missions’ importance to the overall Apollo program.

Before Apollo 11 there were a number of “practice” flights to test the equipment and also to make sure we could get to the Moon, enter orbit around it, and approach the surface (Apollo 10 descended to within 14 kilometers of the surface, for example). Apollo 8 was a* huge *deal because it involved: 1) a crewed vehicle leaving low-Earth orbit for the first time; 2) a crewed vehicle entering orbit around a celestial body other than the Earth for the first time; and 3) that same crewed vehicle breaking from orbit around the Moon and returning safely to Earth.

The second one is the most important and IMO if you manage to enter orbit around a moon, planet, whatever, then you are “there”. Apollo 8 “went” to the Moon in the same sense that MESSENGER “went” to Mercury and Galileo “went” to Jupiter. Very often in spaceflight, orbit is as close as you can get to a celestial body. That’s good enough for me.

You do have to get wet to say you were in the ocean. Otherwise you were at the shore. It is fatuous to argue otherwise.

Well, as an American I’d would say it doesn’t coun’t unless you set foot on there and plant the American flag. So N’ya every other country in the entir world! :smiley:

Agree with others that the wording left much to be desired. I would lean towards the following answers, in increasing order of “correctness”: Apollo 8, Apollo 11, “Eagle,” LEM-5.

The Apollo 8 spacecraft (Command Service Module) was the first manned spacecraft, and the first space vehicle in the Apollo program, to enter the Moon’s sphere of influence (where the Moon’s influence is greater than that of the Earth) which in orbital mechanics terms is accepted as “going to” a celestial body. The Apollo 11 Lunar Module was the first manned vessel to land upon the surface of the Moon.

The imprecise language of the question is introduces considerable ambiguity into the correct answer, but the best technical answer to the question is that the Apollo 8 CSM was the first manned vessel to “go to” the Moon.


Yes that was a typo. I meant to say “You don’t have to get in the water to say you’ve been to the ocean.” I’ve been to the Atlantic Ocean, but I never jumped in.

And this has gone way beyond the game. I think we would’ve accepted Apollo 8, 11, Eagle, etc. as correct answers. There’s been a couple times where the game has the outright wrong answer, and we always accept the actual right answer. We’ll also accept the wrong answer if that’s what the card had.

Agreed, Stranger, but do you not differentiate between ‘going around’ (even if under the influence), and ‘landing on’?

Agree. Another way to look at it is in terms of the amount of risk assumed. Apollo 11 was certainly risky because of all the firsts, and a few instances for the possibility of single-point failures.

But Apollo 8 was in some ways more risky because most of the flight was subject to a single-point failure: they flew without a lunar module. Had they suffered an Apollo 13 type of problem they would have been SOL.

Borman, Lovell and Anders were most definitely out on a rather fragile limb. To say they didn’t go to the moon is a slander.

Both Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 “went to” the moon. Apollo 11 also “landed on” the moon.

I guess my point is that the “landed on” part doesn’t negate? the “went to” part. Therefore, “went to” is valid description. Or something along those lines.