Apollo 8 was launched into space on December 21, 1968 which eventually brought back home the iconic Earthrise picture that changed history. This was the first time a manned mission leave Earth’s orbit, reached the moon, orbit the moon and eventually returned safely back to Earth. The crew of Apollo 8 included Commander Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders.
Now in his 80’s Lovell celebrated his 45th Christmas since their historic trip to the moon. On Monday he re-enacted reading the Book of Genesis in front of the Apollo capsule found on display at the Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. 45 years ago today, on their last orbit around the moon each astronaut read passages from the Book of Genesis while broadcasting live as seen by millions of people on Earth. Lovell said of this recent celebration, “The idea of bringing people together by a flight to the moon where we encompassed everybody in our thoughts is still very valid today.”
Another celebration this week took place at the Scientific Visualization Studio of the Goddard Space Flight Center where a video presentation was prepared using images from the Apollo 8 mission as well as photo mosaic and data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in order to recreate that historic moon mission.
While on their Apollo 8 space vehicle, the three astronauts saw something rising above the lunar surface. It was the Earth, where later Buzz Aldrin would describe as “a bright blue marble suspended in the blackness of space.” Buzz Aldrin was the second astronaut to walk on the moon accomplishing this on July 21, 1969.
Scrambling with a custom Hasselblad 500 EL camera with a 250mm lens, the Apollo 8 astronauts took black and white and colored pictures of the Earth. This Earthrise photo was considered as the first look back on Earth as humans. Life Magazine even included the image as part of its 100 Photographs that Changed the World.
The Earthrise photo was significant in a sense that humans always perceived the earth as the thing under their feet or the things they see around but the photos taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts changed all that. For the first time in history people saw the blue Earth from afar rising from the grey lunar landscape and encompassed by the black space.
This is the same photo that would give birth to the current people’s fascination with environmental concerns and causes. This photo also became the symbol for calls to global unity and peace as well as placed in several works of art and especially in some Christmas cards.
Lovell revealed that he was not sure of what they had just photographed at that time but he knew inside that the photo was something special. Foremost among their minds at the time was to finish the jobs assigned to them and return to Earth safe and sound.
Little they did realize that after landing safely back to Earth and having the photos processed and developed that they finally understood the significance of these pictures of the Earth as viewed from the moon. Lovell in an earlier interview referring to the photos said that he did not comprehend it at first but “…in today’s language, it would go viral – that it would be the capstone and message of the mission.”
Apollo 8 has indeed made history with that historic orbit but what added to the whole value was the Earthrise picture that somehow changed history too.
By Roberto I. Belda