Apollo 8 photographs, particularly Earthrise, had an immense social impact within the US. Major newspapers could publish these photographs immediately in color compared to weekly papers that could only display them black-and-white.
On January 6, 1969, The New York Times featured an Apollo 8 special with color photographs; Time magazine also dedicated six pages to this space mission.
Apollo 8’s Earthrise photo has become one of the most beloved space photographs ever taken, often being credited with sparking environmental activism and awakening people to our planet’s importance more than ever before.
Bill Anders captured this iconic image while in the Apollo 8 command module on December 24, 1968 as it circled around the dark side of the moon for its fourth time. When looking out of his window he noticed that as soon as they circled back around again the moon started disappearing and Earth appeared, prompting him to quickly grab his camera and snap this historic shot.
Before Apollo 8, only very vague images had been captured from lunar orbit by various satellites; this picture became instantly iconic, published repeatedly in books and magazines, inspiring astronomers, artists, and photographers to further study our planet from space.
As NASA commemorates the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, which marked the first crewed flight into lunar orbit, they have released a video depicting what the astronauts saw from their windows. Utilizing photo mosaics and elevation data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), scientists at their Scientific Visualization Studio accurately reproduce what their astronauts saw that day as well as hear audio recordings made during that mission.
The key element of the video, however, is a close-up of Anders’s famous photograph. The Earth can be seen in the lower left corner, just to the right of the moon; appearing almost directly over its spacecraft despite actually being some 1.5 million miles away from it at that time. Sunlight illuminates its surface creating an ashen glow;
Anders’s iconic image stands out as being one of the first times humans had the ability to observe Earth from far enough away to notice that it has continents, oceans and atmosphere – its beauty being so profound it was impossible not to instill it with an air of admiration and respect.
2. The Moon
The Moon remains an enchanting and mystifying object which never ceases to mesmerize us. From astronauts, scientists, and anyone who gazes up into space – it serves as our natural satellite, reminding us how insignificant we really are within such an expansive universe.
Apollo 8 was the inaugural human mission to visit another celestial body round-trip. Launching from Cape Kennedy on December 21, 1968, astronauts Col. Frank Borman as commander; Capt. James Lovell Jr as command module pilot; and Major William Anders as lunar module pilot were on their way to making history.
Throughout their mission, the crew took many photographs of both the Moon and their environment in the spacecraft. Additionally, they broadcasted an exclusive television program on Christmas Eve.
Their mission was incredibly complex; the crew had to travel from Earth orbit and rendezvous with the Moon at speeds exceeding 128.7 kilometres per hour while travelling at over 136,000 kilometers an hour – any mistake in navigation could have seen them stuck there forever, three skeletons stuck inside a small spacecraft no larger than a phone box.
As they neared the Moon, viewers on Earth found it difficult to discern our planet as only a faint glow in the darkness. That was when a voice from within their spacecraft informed them they needed to switch over to lunar module television system for broadcast.
“How beautiful and peaceful it is; and it’s absolutely remarkable that God created such an astounding thing!” Borman was delighted by what they saw.
Borman decided to ask Anders to take some still photos of the Moon, and Anders captured an iconic color photo which shows some of its far side and its shadow on Earth. At first both men claimed credit for taking it but transcripts later revealed that Borman played an essential part in prompting Anders to take that famous shot.
3. The Earth at a Distance
Fifty years ago this month, astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell embarked upon an incredible mission: they sought to capture images of Earth from space. The photos they took during their orbits of the Moon–and later when further away–have profoundly shaped our understanding of its complexity and our place within it.
Although Earthrise gets all of the glory, astronauts also took many other shots that show Earth gradually receding as they circled the Moon – subtler yet equally effective images.
Borman and Lovell took many of these photographs spontaneously, not because they wanted to capture anything special but rather because their mission photographer in Houston had suggested they take photos if an opportunity presented itself. Unsure of what to expect when taking these shots, Borman and Lovell quickly grabbed their cameras as soon as the moment presented itself.
One of the best photographs from these missions shows clearly North and South America being outlined by the sun, leaving astronauts amazed and excited, but also realizing what they had seen was significant – realizing they were part of an ancient history of human exploration, following in Jules Verne’s footsteps, along with many others like them.
Unsurprisingly, American newspapers and magazines of the time did not generate as strong of emotional reactions when publishing these pictures as they had with Earthrise. For instance, Life magazine on January 10, 1969 featured a color photograph taken from Apollo 8 but made no reference to being human’s first close look at Earth from space.
Newsweek magazine gave these images much greater coverage in an eye-catching two page color spread, featuring both partial Earthrise images as well as full Earth shots with explanation that, unlike its barren lunar surface, “Earth shows itself to Apollo 8’s crew surrounded by pitch black space.” Although how exactly this particular set was distributed remains unclear, one possibility might have been through Associated Press services which sent them directly to newspapers using teletypewriters.
4. The Lunar Surface
As they gazed upon the crater pitted lunar landscape gliding past beneath them, astronauts were astounded. It appeared like an intricate black and white painting filled with tortured terrain: craters on top of craters obliterating other craters plus mares, rifts, rilles, and abysses – and they simply marvelled at its spectacle. For an instant all their mission concerns had vanished as the men enjoyed gazing upon this new world.
Borman asked permission to take a Seconal sleeping pill, and attempted to sleep; but only managed seven fitful hours, awakening multiple times during the night with nausea and diarrhea resulting in his spacecraft becoming covered with small globules of vomit and feces. While staying awake was easier due to Houston ground crew modifying orbit, Borman wanted to communicate with them to remain on alert in case any changes needed to be made by ground personnel regarding orbit.
As they approached the shadow of the Moon, Borman used the spacecraft’s controls to turn around for a better view of its surface; normally this job would have been performed by Lovell with a sextant for navigation purposes. Once their approach to Earthrose had concluded, Borman asked Anders to take a photo; eventually this resulted in what is known as “Earthrise” photo (NASA image 68-HC-731).
Borman kept himself awake throughout his orbit to receive instructions from Earth and ensure they received an official “Go/No Go” decision from flight controllers before passing behind the Moon each time.
At last, trajectory specialists approved of a Moon landing on their next pass over target. Once in orbit around Earth again, the crew switched to the re-entry corridor for their return journey – an exhilarating ride skimming through thin lunar atmosphere at speeds up to 39,635 kilometres per hour! As they flew through an asteroid belt and Sun’s photosphere they needed to keep an eye out for stars as they used their IMU spacecraft’s inertial reference unit (IMU).