Apollo 8 was the second crewed spaceflight mission flown in the United States Apollo space program, the first having been Apollo 7 which stayed in Earth orbit. Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968, and became the first crewed spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, reach the Moon, orbit it, and return. The three-astronaut crew: Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, were the first humans to fly to the Moon, to witness and photograph an Earthrise, and to escape the gravity of a celestial body.
The crew wanted to name their spacecraft, but NASA did not allow it. The crew would have likely chosen Columbiad, the name of the giant cannon that launches a space vehicle in Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. (Funfact: …but The Apollo 11 CM was named Columbia partly because of this.)
Earthrise is a photograph of Earth and some of the Moon’s surface that was taken from lunar orbit by William Anders on December 24, 1968. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken“
There is no blurring that might be expected from the blanket of oxygen and nitrogen that envelops our planet. Our atmosphere is too thin to be seen clearly from the Moon: a striking reminder – if we ever needed one – of the frailty of the biosphere that sustains life on Earth. Earthrise is a striking reminder of Earth’s vulnerability.
“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark”
Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)
“I clearly remember my first sight of the Earthrise photograph.
I suddenly realised how isolated and lonely we are on Earth.”
Sir David Attenborough (1926 – )
The first popular expressions of ecological concern can be traced to the publication of this picture. Earthrise was an epiphany in space. In this way, humans first recorded their home planet from another world.
It was, as Frank Borman later recalled, “the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness, surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any colour to it. Everything else was either black or white. But not the Earth.”