As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve, 2018 – the 50th anniversary of the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders. It was the first photograph of the Earth from the Moon taken by a person. I was nearly six years old when this photo was taken, and it’s had a positive effect on my life. I was young and photos like this encouraged my dream of becoming an astronaut. While I never did become one, it did eventually spark my interest in astrophotography. So today seems like a great time to share this photo.
Not only did it change the way I thought, it had a profound effect on the rest of the world. It was known as the “Shot Seen Round the World”. It was the first photo of Earth taken from so far away.
Our Place in the Universe
It showed us that we humans live on a small, blue world. Separated from our nearest heavenly body, the Moon, by immense distance. We were isolated, alone in the blackness of space.
While some may think of this as a rather existential idea, it also affirms our togetherness as Earthlings. And not just humans, but all life on Earth.
Astronauts are Photographers Too
The photo was taken by the astronauts on Apollo 8 – Mission Commander Frank Borman, William A. Anders, and James A. Lovell, Jr. Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to the Moon. They circled the Moon ten times in twenty hours and then returned to Earth. They went to scout landing sites for future Apollo missions.
While Bill Anders usually get credit for the photo, it was actually a group effort. Borman had just finished rolling the spaceship, while Anders was looking at the surface of the moon to photograph potential landing spots. Anders noticed the Earth rising above the horizon of the Moon. Excitedly, he said, “Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth comin’ up. Wow, is that pretty!” and he took a photo.
Mission Commander Borman scolded Anders for taking a shot, citing that it was not on the mission schedule. But then Anders asked Jim Lovell to grab him a roll of color film, and then Lovell noticed the view as well. Lovell replied, “Oh man, that’s great.”
The excitement of his crewmates must have been enough to convince Borman that this unscheduled activity was worth pursuing as he remaind quiet for the next few minutes!
Anders thought he had missed the shot, but Lovell noticed it was better in another window. So Anders moved over to take more shots. Lovell kept encouraging Anders to shoot, so much that Anders said, “Calm down, Lovell!”
Anders ended up taking a total of three shots. Lovell even mentioned one of the exposures Anders used, “Two-fifty at f/11”, said Lovell.
This sounds a lot like many earthbound photographers in the heat of the moment while capturing a great shot!
Relief from 1968
1968 was a year that saw much unrest. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Riots had occurred in France and across the United States. The war in Vietnam had grown bigger.
This photo became an immediate hit – it was an inspiration to all. It was a much needed icon to the burgeoning environmental moment. It was a gift to Humanity.
More Photography by Astronauts
I found this photo at an awesome site – Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. It’s one of the many cool websites that NASA runs. If you’re a space fan like I am, you’ll have a lot of fun on this site! It seems like the photos are never ending too! It’s a great way to spend some time when you have other things to do!
I found the transcript of the Apollo 8 astronauts while taking this amazing photo here: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a004100/a004129/G2013-102_Earthrise_MASTER_youtube_hqTranscripts.html