Apollo 8 was the mission that validated our ability to go to the moon and return safely, which set the stage for further validating flights of Apollo 9 and 10. Only then were we ready to safely land Americans on the Moon.
A half century later, we haven't been back to the moon or gone on from there to Mars, a fact that would have outraged anyone living in the Apollo era. "Of course we will have lunar and martian bases by the year 2000," they might have exclaimed.
In spite of learning how to successfully go to the Moon 50 years ago, NASA's current plans might only return Americans to the surface of the moon by the late 2020s--perhaps in time for the 60th anniversary of Apollo 8 or Apollo 11.
Yet the surface of the Moon is where we will learn how to live on Mars, and where cities and commerce will one day arise. But there's a serious race for the only parts of the Moon where humans can live: the poles where there is water ice in the craters. America might not be participating in this race, unlike in the original race to the Moon, however China has set their plans to conquer the poles. The danger is they will claim the strategic poles as theirs, following the example they are setting to try to seize the international waters and sovereign territories of the South China Sea.
It's time to get our priorities correct for the 2020s, with a determined program to land Americans back on the moon in the early 2020s followed by constructing a permanent lunar base with our partners from the International Space Station, and then, with lessons learned, go to Mars in the 2030s!
Watch the Apollo 8 astronaut's Christmas Eve broadcast from the Moon, including reading from Genesis: