The Earthrise is the magnificent view of the gibbous Earth as seen from lunar orbit. Our planet is seen rising over the moon’s horizon. It was a photograph taken by US astronaut William Anders in the Apollo 8 mission, the first manned mission ever sent to the moon. The photo was taken on Christmas Eve, 1968. Now, 45 years later the Apollo 8 Earthrise photograph is going to be recreated.
On December 20 NASA released a new simulation of how the iconic Earthrise photo was taken. The video was made using topographic data collected by NASA’s Lunar Orbiter, the robotic spacecraft that has been orbiting the moon since 2009. The orbiter has been making a 3D map of the surface of the moon. Some of the images it has taken contain debris and leftover parts from the Apollo mission.
Maps from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, along with archival data and input from the three astronauts who were there that day, NASA has recreated exactly how, when, at at what precise angle the photo was taken. Among the data that the simulation draws upon is the 3D model of the lunar terrain, the Apollo 8 flight plan, the angles and dimensions of the windows, the optical properties of the cameras, and the shape of the clouds on Earth the day the picture was taken.
“This new simulation allows anyone to virtually ride with the astronauts and experience the awe they felt at the vista in front of them,” NASA says of the simulation. It is the first time NASA has released a video in which the onboard audio record of the crew talking is synced along with the visuals.
To do this, they used a vertical stereo photos from the Apollo 8 mission, explains Ernie Wright, project lead of the Scientific Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Cente. A camera was mounted in window that pointed down onto the surface of the moon, taking a picture once per 20 seconds as the spacecraft turned. By comparing the photos to the LRO data, the exact time of the spacecraft’s rotation can be determined.
The Earthrise photo is considered by some to be the greatest photo ever taken, a picture of our humble and isolated home in the big black abyss. It seems to wash away our geocentric mindset with a glance. It was the first time we ever got to see the world from space, giving it special significance to the environmental movement. The photo was picked by Time Magazine as one of the Great Images of the 20th Century. It was on the cover of Life Magazine‘s 100 Photos That Changed the World. The photo even appears on a US postal stamp.
Surprisingly, taking a picture of Earth from lunar orbit did not occur to the astronauts right away. “Of all the objectives NASA had set before launch, no one had thought of photographing the earth from lunar orbit,” writes Robert Zimmerman in Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8.
Now, because we have a detailed recreation of the taking of the Earthrise Apollo 8 photo, everyone can see exactly what the three astronauts (Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell) saw as they were taking the photo 45 years ago.
By K. Elsner