On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to witness Earth rising above the moon’s barren surface. Now we can relive the astronauts’ experience, thanks to data from the
[ music ] On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon and the first to witness the magnificent sight called “Earthrise.” Now, we can see this historic event exactly as astronauts saw it, thanks to new data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. LRO’s magnificent global lunar maps, combined with the astronauts’ own photographs, reveal where Apollo 8 was on the Moon, and even its precise orientation in space, when the astronauts first saw the Earth rising above the Earth. arid horizon of the Moon.
[ music ] It happened just minutes after 10:30 a.m. Houston time, as Apollo 8 was coming to the other side of the Moon for the fourth time. Mission Commander Frank Borman was in the left seat, preparing to turn the spacecraft to a new orientation in accordance with the flight plan. Navigator Jim Lovell was in the spacecraft’s lower equipment compartment, about to make lunar landmark sightings with the onboard sextant, and Bill Anders was in the right seat, observing the Moon through his side window and taking photos with a Hasselblad still camera. . , equipped with a 250mm telephoto lens.
Meanwhile, a second Hasselblad with an 80mm lens was mounted on Borman’s front window, the so-called rendezvous window, photographing the Moon with an automatic timer: a new photo every twenty seconds. These photographs, combined with LRO’s high-resolution terrain maps, show that Borman was still rotating Apollo 8 when Earth appeared. It was only because of the timing of this rotation that the birth of the Earth, which had occurred in the previous three orbits of Apollo 8 but had not been seen by the astronauts, now appeared in Bill Anders’s side window.
Here’s what it looked like, recreated from LRO data by Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio. You will hear the astronauts’ voices captured by the recorder on board Apollo 8, beginning with Frank Borman announcing the start of the rotation maneuver, and see the Earth rising from one window to another as Apollo 8 rotates.
Borman: Alright, let’s roll. Set ready…
Anders: The impact crater with uh – in uh – just before the subsolar point on the south side, at the bottom of it, uh, [unintelligible], there is a dark hole. But I couldn’t get a quick enough look to see if it might be something volcanic.
Anders: Oh my God, look at that photo over there! There is the Earth rising. Wow, this is beautiful!
Borman: Hey, don’t take it, it’s not scheduled.
Anders: Do you have color film, Jim? Pass me a paint roller, quick, will you?
Lovell: Wow, that’s great.
Lovell: Where is it?
Lovell: Down here?
Anders: Just get me a color. A colorful exterior. Hurry up. Do you have one?
Lovell: Yes, I’m looking for one. C 368.
Anders: Anything. Fast.
Anders: Well, I think we lost.
Lovell: Hey, I got it right here [in the hatch window].
Anders: Let me explain this, it’s much clearer.
Lovell: Bill, I framed it, it’s very clear here!
Lovell: Got it?
Lovell: Take lots, take lots! Here, give it to me!
Anders: Wait a minute, let me set the right setting here now, calm down.
Lovell: Take –
Anders: Calm down, Lovell!
Lovell: Well, I got it right – oh, it’s a beautiful shot… Two-fifty at f/11.
Lovell: Now vary the exposure a little.
Anders: Yes, I caught two of them here.
Lovell: Are you sure you understand now?
Anders: Yeah, we’re going to get – well, it’s going to come up again, I think.
[ music ] For astronauts, seeing the Earth rise was an unexpected and electrifying experience, and one of the three photographs taken by Bill Anders became an iconic image of the 20th century.
In 2018, the International Astronomical Union commemorated the event by naming a 40-kilometer-diameter crater “Anders’ Earthrise.” A smaller crater was named “Eight Homeward”. Both craters are visible in the iconic Earthrise photograph.
I’m Andrew Chaikin, author of “A Man on the Moon.”
[ music ][Satellite passing by: Beeping rhythmically]
About Apollo 8
Apollo 8, a significant milestone in space exploration, was the second manned mission in NASA’s Apollo program and the first to leave Earth’s orbit. Launched on December 21, 1968, the mission was crewed by astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders. This mission marked a series of firsts: it was the first human spaceflight to reach the Moon, the first to orbit it and the first to return to Earth after orbiting another celestial body.
The primary objectives of Apollo 8 were to test human spaceflight capabilities beyond low-Earth orbit and demonstrate translunar injection, lunar orbit, and safe return to Earth. The mission achieved a significant psychological victory in the Space Race, capturing the world’s attention and demonstrating the United States’ ability to reach the Moon.
One of the most iconic moments of Apollo 8 was the “Earthrise” photograph taken by William Anders, showing the Earth rising above the lunar horizon. This image became a powerful symbol of the mission and is considered one of the most significant photographs of the 20th century. The team also did a broadcast on Christmas Eve where they read from the Book of Genesis, which was watched by millions of people around the world.
Apollo 8 landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968, and its success paved the way for Apollo 11, which would fulfill its goal of landing humans on the Moon the following year. The mission’s achievements and legacy continue to be celebrated as pivotal moments in human space exploration.