The first orbit around the moon follows on an elliptical orbit and in various manoeuvres the crew aligns the capsule so that the cameras and windows are directed at the lunar surface. A few hours later, Apollo 8 sends its first images to Earth. The lunar surface, which slowly passed under the spaceship. And then earthrise. “Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” Frank Borman says. Only after some back and forth with Borman and Lovell does crew member Bill Anders finally shoot the historical photo, which was not included in his recording program.
Today it is said that this image has changed the way we humans see the Earth. As a teenager in 1969, I had hung up a poster with the photo in my room. Without thinking much about what it might mean. Surely some may have experienced in this picture how small and special our blue planet is in the infinite black expanse of the universe. And soon afterwards the picture came back. 1972, as cover picture on the report of the Club of Rome about the limits of growth.
The film footage
The pictures from 1968 were taken from a NASA film, thus showing the perception of the directors at that time. The original sounds of the astronauts were digitized by NASA tapes.
“Here is Apollo 8 with a live broadcast from the moon. We switched the camera. First we showed them a picture of the Earth as we have seen it the last 16 hours. Now we switch so that we can show them the moon over which we have been flying for 16 hours at an altitude of 60 miles. William Anders, James Lovell and I spent Christmas Eve up here experimenting, taking pictures and keeping the spaceship with the engines in position. We will now continue our course as we have all day and take you to a sunset on the moon. The moon means something different to each of us. I think each of us will take his own impression of what he has seen today… I know my own impression is that of a vast, lonely expanse of nothing. It looks like clouds over clouds of pumice. And in any case, it doesn’t seem very inviting as a place to live or work.”
Reading from the Genesis
On Christmas Eve, astronauts Anders and Borman read from Genesis.
“We are now approaching the lunar sunrise. And for all the people down on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we want to send you: In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. And the earth was desolate and empty, and it was dark on the deep. The Spirit of God hovered over the water and said, “Let there be light. And there was light. And God saw that the light was good and God divided the light from the darkness”.
“And God called the light day, and he called the darkness night. Then the evening and the morning became the first day. And God said, Let there be a vault between the waters, which divide between the waters. Then God made the vault, and separated the water under the vault from the water above the vault. And so it happened. And God called the vault heaven. So the evening and the morning became the second day.”
“And God said, Let the waters of the heavens be gathered together in special places. Let dry land appear. And so it happened. And God called the dry land earth, and the waters he called the sea. And God saw that it was good. And from the crew of Apollo 8: “we close with a Good Night, Good Luck, Merry Christmas and God bless you all – all of you on the good earth”.
Did the Christmas message have any effect? 500 million television viewers in all parts of the world followed the live images of the moon. And the Earthrise-photo has changed our perception of the earth. In America the space euphoria awakes again, and the 7 months later following successful moon landing lets forget the Vietnam debacle for a short time. But the disillusionment comes already in autumn 1969. We can solve the problems of the earth only on this earth. A space travel escapism remains an illusion, then as now.