Sent to Examine the Moon, Humans Instead Discovered Earth

The “Earthrise” image taken by Bill Anders on Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968.

The picture, called Earthrise, shows the earth from space; it was taken by the astronauts of Apollo 8 while scouting landing spots on the moon. Here’s the New York Times story showing the picture and the beginning and end of the Times story:

This is where we live. In space. On a marble fortified against bottomless blackness by a shell of air and color, fragile and miraculous as a soap bubble.

In 1968, we Earthlings knew that already, sort of. But that abstract notion became visceral on Christmas Eve of that year. While scouting landing spots on the moon, the astronauts of Apollo 8—Frank Borman, William A. Anders and James A. Lovell, Jr.— spied the shiny blue Earth rising over the ash-colored lunar mountains like a cosmic smiley face. That image, transmitted from space, went on to capture the imagination of the world: Earthrise.

Major Anders had the job of photographing the lunar landscape. When Earth rose, a robot would have kept on clicking off pictures of the craters. Indeed the astronauts briefly joked about whether they should break off and aim their cameras up. “Hey don’t take that, it’s not scheduled,” Commander Borman said. Then, like good humans, they grabbed cameras and clicked away. . . .

Seventeen hours later, on Christmas Eve, what NASA has described as the biggest broadcast audience in history was listening when the opening lines of Genesis came crackling down from the heavens.

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth,” Major Anders began.

“And God saw that it was good,” Commander Borman said.

It would take a little while longer for the world to realize that Apollo 8’s greatest legacy would be a single photograph of home. The residents of the only known inhabited planet in the universe would “know the place for the first time” (to borrow from T.S. Eliot). Sent to examine the Moon, Major Anders later said, humans instead discovered Earth.


  1. Barnard Collier says

    Moving and apt. Merry Christmas..

  2. Barnard Collier says

    Such cool writing reminds me:

    “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

    – Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896 –1940), writer

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