Nine hundred miles southwest of Hawaii at 9:31 AM (Houston time), the USS Yorktown (CV-10) awaited the splashdown of Apollo 8 just off Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.
Unlike previous missions, the Apollo missions would return to earth at the speed of 25,000 miles per hour. They would need a nominal reentry angle of 6.4 degrees, too steep a reentry and the command module would burn up, too shallow and it would skip off the atmosphere and back into space.
One interesting phenomenon of the reentry is the spacecraft skipping from 200,000 feet in altitude back up to 400,000 feet altitude before continuing its descent to the surface. At the 30,000 feet three small, stablizing parachutes were programmed to deploy and at 10,000 feet the main chutes would open.
In the predawn darkness the air search radar on the USS Yorktown picked up the command module 25 miles SW of the ship on its descent. Helicopter crews began talking to the astronauts as they prepared for recovery. Click here to hear about those conversations.
The Navy helicopters quickly picked up the astronauts and delivered them to the flight deck of the Yorktown.
The astronauts spoke to Yorktown’s crew and then descended to the hangar deck to cut up the 500 pound cake awaiting them. President Lyndon Johnson also called to celebrate the first manned mission to the moon and return to earth.