Earthrise: How Astronauts Took the Most Important Photo in Space History

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 20 2013 12:24 PM

Earthrise: Recreating an Iconic Moment in Space History

Earthrise
The photo that divided humanity into the past and the future: Earthrise, Dec. 24, 1968.

Photo by NASA

On Dec. 24, 1968—45 years ago this week—by what is essentially coincidence and fast thinking, one of the most iconic photographs in human history was taken: Earthrise over the Moon.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

It occurred during Apollo 8 as astronauts Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Frank Borman were orbiting the Moon—the first humans in history to do so. Their orbital motion brought the Earth into view over the Moon’s horizon, moving slowly upward into the black sky. The photographs taken became a symbol of human exploration, and of our fragile and beautiful planet.

Advertisement

The good folks at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center’s Scientific Visualization Studio took data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and carefully matched it to the photographs taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts, allowing them to recreate the events that led to the history-changing moment. They put together a wonderful video, narrated by my pal Andy Chaikin, which describes how it all happened (and you can get the transcript here).

Wondrous. And the importance of that photo cannot be overstated. Seeing our home world floating by itself, lonely and unprotected, in all that black … it’s been credited for starting the environmental movement, and certainly provides an extraordinary perspective on our place in the Universe.

Some people find it disturbing, crushing our sense of importance into insignificance. I myself take the opposite view: It is proof of our exceptional capability to overcome our fears, to make our reach exceed our grasp, and to indulge our curiosity to see what lies beyond our current view. This photo does not frighten or diminish me; it stokes the fires of my imagination and shows me precisely what we can do when we set our minds to it.

The photo of Earthrise shows a pivotal moment in the history of humanity. There will be many, many more like it.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 14 2014 11:44 PM A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?