Years Ago, NASA's 'Earthrise' Photo Became a Gift to Humanity

Katie Ramirez
December 25, 2018

Once Lovell keyed in the necessary commands, the Apollo 8 began its three-day journey towards the moon, thereby becoming the first manned vehicle to escape the influence of Earth's gravity.

The Earthrise has been recognised as one of the best images in human history as it has not only proved influential as an environmental image, but has also been one of the most reproduced ever.

On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 launch, it's important to remember what this mission gave us.

"NASA usually went step-by-step". Those moments get their due in "Apollo's Daring Mission".

But in 1968, maybe watching the news on Christmas Eve, when Walter Cronkite reported that Santa had left the North Pole and was traveling south, I was a bit wary of the myth.

But it was Apollo 8 that, for the first time ever, proved the moon was within reach of human hands. Borman, Lovell, and Anders became the first men to leave earth's gravitational field, the first to travel through a quarter of a million extraterrestrial miles, the first to see the dark side of the moon, and the first to see the heart-stoppingly gorgeous view of an earthrise from outer space - to see the Earth, in Borman's awestruck formulation, the way God must see it.

But CIA imagery suggested that the Soviets were preparing to send cosmonauts on a flight around the moon in late 1968 or early 1969.

Fred Spier, a senior lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, notes in his article "The Elusive Apollo 8 Earthrise Photo" that Borman and Lovell each played a crucial part in prompting Anders, who had the only colour camera, to take the shot.

Could the Saturn V and the Apollo spaceship be ready in time?

WASHINGTON- NOVEMBER 13  Apollo 8 Crew Members Frank Borman James Lovell and William Anders chat with Journalist in Residence at the Newseum Nick Clooney during a live taping of a NASA TV program at the Newseum

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Any trip to space is risky, but a mission to the moon, almost a quarter-million miles from Earth, was something else. First, they pointed out where humans would eventually land, displaying a lunar sunrise. "Apollo's Daring Mission" shines a well-deserved spotlight on MIT software engineer Margaret Hamilton, whose leadership of the programming effort earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom (and her own Lego minifigure). "Inside Mission Control, no one moved". He says something unusual happened afterward: "At the end of 1968, when Apollo 8 splashed down, you saw hippies hugging old men in the streets".

While photographing the moon's surface, Bill Anders saw the Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

"Oh my God, look at that picture over there!" Anders said. "There's the Earth coming up". Borman jokingly said, "You can't do that, Anders, it's not in the flight plan" - I'd been pretty much holding onto the flight plan because I was overloaded with snapping away at the moon - but I figured, the heck with it, even a coldhearted [Air Force] fighter pilot like me realized this was something worth snapping and lucky for me I had color film and a 250mm lens on my camera. This was one of the dozens upon dozens of pictures taken in lunar orbit.

The famous photo was taken during the mission's fourth pass around the Moon, at which point the spacecraft had changed its orbit, making it possible to see the Earth above the lunar horizon.

The interest in the Red Planet stems from the fact that its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth which could help us learn more about our planet's history and future.

But Earthrise wasn't Apollo 8's only legacy. They then took turns reading from the book of Genesis displaying creation as the Judeo-Christian tradition knew it-the opening text to both the Jewish Torah and the Christian bible.

The U.S. and the Soviet Union had spent the 1960s locked in the space race, and getting to the moon first was a thrilling achievement for most Americans. In January 1967, an errant electrical spark had triggered a flash fire that destroyed Apollo 1 during preflight testing, killing three astronauts. But there are so many other firsts that Apollo 8 brought us, so I thought we ought to take a minute to look at some of the less celebrated but still absolutely incredible images from Apollo 8. "Now, we have digital computers in everything", he explains.

Fifty years later, here we are again.

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