Apollo 8 Mission Photos

On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell first saw Earth while orbiting the Moon – it was an astounding view!

Astronauts documented this event with several photographs; Earthrise became a timeless icon of 20th-century technological endeavor and environmental awareness.


On a few days after Apollo 8 had entered lunar orbit, astronaut William Anders took an iconic photograph that has come to be known as Earthrise. With the image depicting our Earth as an oasis atop a barren lunar surface, Earthrise captured people around the globe’s imagination while providing humanity a new understanding of their own home planet.

While other spacecraft had sent back images of Earth from above, this was the first time human eyes saw such views up close and personal. This picture remains one of the most stunning and beautiful photographs ever captured, and has since become an integral part of environmental movements worldwide.

Anders first noticed this incredible sight while on an intermission from radio contact with Mission Control. He immediately requested color film cameras from Frank Borman and Jim Lovell before snapping several photographs through several windows before it passed by. His final effort, catalogued as AS08-14-2383 by Lunar and Planetary Institute as part of Apollo 8 archived, shows Earth rising into view just beyond lunar horizon.

Panorama magazine published its February 1, 1969 edition devoted two pages to this landmark image. Accompanying text declared, ‘Jules Verne’s vision has now become historical reality as astronauts gaze down upon a terrifying lunar landscape while, far off in space, half-obscured Earth moves around its orbit’

Although these images had a tremendous effect in America, it’s fascinating that when astronauts reported back on their experiences from space in live TV broadcasts from space they did not mention this spectacular sight of Earth rising above the Moon – perhaps reflecting their strict discipline and need to stay focused on technical matters.

Lunar Orbit

Apollo 8 took stunning images of the Moon from close distance as it approached. Commander Frank Borman and Lunar Module Pilot Jim Lovell captured these first lunar photographs as their spacecraft passed about a quarter million miles from its surface; these iconic images would become known as Earthrise.”

Mission 5 of Lunar Orbiter achieved remarkable photography coverage of over 98% of Moon’s surface (near side and far side), at 50fppixel resolution. These pictures were used both to identify prospective Apollo landing sites as well as provide scientific data about lunar environment.

Viewed from 240 kilometers south of the Moon’s center, Shackleton de Gerlache Ridge can be seen here from an elevation of 3 kilometers deep craters that feature towering central peaks rising nearly 900 meters from their bases. This image showed how dramatically three-dimensional lunar terrain could appear and was immediately recognized as one of “the pictures of the century.”

Photographs taken by Lunar Orbiter cameras also revealed that the Moon was tidally locked to Earth, with one face always visible from our perspective. This caused navigational difficulties for future missions to the Moon requiring use of lunar satellite constellations so as to stay in communication with Earth from anywhere on its surface–even poles!

Lunar Orbiter 2’s photographic data provided insight into the lunar environment and how it affected spacecraft performance. Micrometeoroid experiments reported 22 impacts, showing that average micrometeoroid flux near the Moon was two orders of magnitude higher than interplanetary space and slightly less than Earth’s atmosphere; radiation experiments confirmed that Apollo’s Lunar Module protective shields would offer sufficient protection from short-term solar particle events.

Apollo 8 mission’s dramatic view of the lunar surface, featuring Shackleton deGerlache Ridge and other features, serves as an extraordinary testament to humanity’s historical journey to space. Stitched together from individual photographs taken at LROC by JAXA team is a tribute to astronauts who courageously risked their lives for exploration purposes.

Lunar Exploration

Apollo missions ignited great interest in lunar exploration. Both the United States and Soviet Union sent unmanned spacecraft to orbit and land on the Moon; both spacecraft were equipped with scoops for collecting lunar rocks; photos taken by Surveyor 7 collected samples from Tycho crater by Surveyor 7, showing their rock layers had once been molten at some time during its history.

NASA began their lunar exploration again after Apollo programs came to a close with two robotic missions called Clementine and Lunar Prospector that explored wavelengths beyond visible light to map the Moon, uncovering possible signs of water ice deposits on its poles.

NASA launched LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) spacecraft in 2009 for detailed lunar mapping, which has discovered hardware left at six Apollo landing sites as well as evidence for liquid water at its south pole.

Other LRO family spacecraft have also examined the Moon’s exosphere, while twin GRAIL probes – affectionately nicknamed Ebb and Flow – flew together to survey its gravity field before intentionally being crashed near its north pole.

NASA hopes that in the future it can use the knowledge and technologies acquired through lunar exploration to launch a crewed mission to Mars, known as Artemis (after the Greek goddess of the Moon). Artemis seeks to pave the way for women and people of color to walk upon its surface as well as allow astronauts to stay longer on its surface and set up permanent bases there; to support this aim the space agency has formed partnerships with commercial companies in order to develop technology necessary for such missions.

Return to Earth

At the conclusion of Apollo 8’s return journey, mission commander Frank Borman and navigator Jim Lovell were able to capture beautiful color images of Earth through their command module’s window. Although prior unmanned US Lunar Orbiter 1 and Soviet Zond 6 spacecraft transmissions of black-and-white photos had reached Earth in 1966 and 1968, none had had such widespread audience reach and emotional impact as those provided by Apollo 8.

NASA’s official photo summary for the mission states: As they circled around to the far side of the Moon on their fourth orbit and looked back toward Earth, astronauts witnessed an amazing sight: as their service module’s engines burned four minutes to circularize their lunar orbit, Earth emerged from behind its stark surface!

Not to be misconstrued as misleading by media reports, NASA did not refer to their image of Earthrise as such due to being taken during their fourth lunar orbit rather than immediately upon entry.

NASA describes these photos as showing particular views of Earth from points near and far from the Moon.” While these may not be as well known, but are no less striking. A full set can be found on Apollo Archive website.

Bill Anders, a geologist and photographer serving as scientific officer on Apollo 8, took two pictures that show East Coast of United States and Caribbean Sea landscapes; Lovell took another in lower equipment bay of command module that provides clear views of Americas continents – both were not part of planned Apollo 8 photography program.

Review of magazine photos available online through Apollo Archive and NASA Analysis of Apollo 8 photography and visual observations (p.205, 1969) indicates that AS08-14-2481 and AS08-14-2482 were both whole Earth photographs; however, their magazine article only mentioned Earthrise photos, without making mention of other whole Earth or earthrise photos that may also exist.

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