On December 24th, 1968, astronaut William Anders took the iconic photograph “Earthrise.” Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit and travel to the moon; its mission, to take high resolution photos of the moon’s surface to prepare for the lunar landing in 1969. Unlike the equally iconic “Blue Marble” photo, we know who took this picture. Here is a transcript of the event:
Frank Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty
William Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Frank Borman: (laughing) You got color film, Jim?
William Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…
John Noble Wilford, The New York Times Science Correspondent, in his reminiscences of NASA’s Moon Program, described the moment and its impact:
The astronauts gasped at the sight of Earth, a blue and white orb sparkling in the blackness of space, in contrast to the dead lunar surface in the foreground. People at home saw the full earth only in black-and-white television images. Even so, the sight moved the poet Archibald MacLeish to write in The Times on Christmas Day: “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”
After the mission, NASA released the color pictures the astronauts had taken of “Earthrise.” These were even more inspiring and humbling, the mission’s prized keepsake. Time magazine closed out the troubled year with the Earthrise photograph on its cover, with a one-word caption, “Dawn.”
“Earthrise” visually shocked a world torn apart by war and turmoil into the realization that there was a larger unity that bound all inhabitants of the planet together. Our shared home, an island surrounded by the vastness of unforgiving space, needed safeguarding. Robert Poole in Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth sees the photo as “the tipping point, the moment when the sense of the space age flipped from what it meant for space to what it means for Earth.” Galen Rowell, renowned outdoor photographer, believes “Earthrise” to be “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, Time magazine produced a short film to put the “Earthrise” in context.