On this day in 1968, the photo known as “Earthrise” was taken by the Apollo 8 crew, consisting of commander Frank Borman, navigator Jim Lovell, and rookie Bill Anders.
Better known as the first time humans had visited the moon, via ten lunar orbits, the mission led to an unexpected iconic photograph.
“We have astronauts on a spaceship in another place, looking back on this beautiful planet with another heavenly body in the foreground—it’s stunning. It checks all the boxes.”
After looping around the moon three times and taking several photos of its surface, the crew famously greeted citizens of Earth during a Christmas Eve broadcast. On their fourth loop later that evening, they encountered something that totally surprised them: A striking view of home sliding out from behind the moon like the sun over Earth’s horizon.
It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that Apollo 8 — at that point the biggest rocket ever built — could have been a disaster. It was initially delayed due to hardware issues, but was pushed to December under the fear that the Soviets would beat the U.S. first (as they had seven years earlier when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space).
The crew was basically “riding a controlled bomb that had not been completely checked out, inside a spacecraft that had not been tested to everyone’s satisfaction.”
But not only did it go off without a hitch, but it produced an image that dramatically highlighted “the paradoxical context in which we exist: Our planet is simultaneously cosmically insignificant, and the most important thing we share as a species.”
National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry describes it as “the most important photograph ever made” and likens it to humanity seeing itself in a mirror for the first time.
“When something happens like that, it speaks to us on a level that we don’t maybe fully understand You can’t—as an artist, as a photographer, as a writer—you can’t necessarily predict it. It just happens. And that’s kind of the magic of art, isn’t it? We create things as human beings that speak to people in different ways.”
Source: National Geographic