Tag Archives: Apollo 8

The real meaning of the Apollo 8 Earthrise image

Earthrise, as seen by a space-farer

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the moment when the three astronauts on Apollo 8 witnessed their first Earthrise while in orbit around the Moon, and Bill Anders snapped the picture of that Earthrise that has been been called “the most influential environmental picture ever taken.”

The last few days have seen numerous articles celebrating this iconic image. While all have captured in varying degrees the significance and influence of that picture on human society on Earth, all have failed to depict this image as Bill Anders, the photographer, took it. He did not frame the shot, in his mind, with the horizon on the bottom of the frame, as it has been depicted repeatedly in practically every article about this image, since the day it was published back in 1968.

Instead, Anders saw himself as an spaceman in a capsule orbiting the waist of the Moon. He also saw the Earth as merely another space object, now appearing from behind the waist of that Moon. As a result, he framed the shot with the horizon to the right, with the Earth moving from right to left as it moved out from behind the Moon, as shown on the right.

His perspective was that of a spacefarer, an explorer of the universe that sees the planets around him as objects within that universe in which he floats.

When we here are on Earth frame the image with the horizon on the bottom, we immediately reveal our limited planet-bound perspective. We automatically see ourselves on a planet’s surface, watching another planet rise above the distant horizon line.

This difference in perspective is to me the real meaning of this picture. On one hand we see the perspective of the past. On the other we see the perspective the future, for as long a humanity can remain alive.

I prefer the future perspective, which is why I framed this image on the cover of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 the way Bill Anders took it. I prefer to align myself with that space-faring future.

And it was that space-faring future that spoke when they read from Genesis that evening. They had made the first human leap to another world, and they wished to describe and capture the majesty of that leap to the world. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Yet, they were also still mostly Earth-bound in mind, which is why Frank Borman’s concluding words during that Christmas eve telecast were so heartfelt. He was a spaceman in a delicate vehicle talking to his home of Earth, 240,000 miles away. “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.” They longed deeply to return, a wish that at that moment, in that vehicle, was quite reasonable.

Someday that desire to return to Earth will be gone. People will live and work and grow up in space, and see the Earth as Bill Anders saw it in his photograph fifty years ago.

And it is for that time that I long. It will be a future of majesty we can only imagine.

Merry Christmas to all, all of us still pinned down here on “the good Earth.”

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Apollo 8: Fifty years ago

Fifty years ago the Apollo 8 mission successfully began with a 6:51 am launch at what was then called Cape Kennedy. It would be a space mission that would not only make history, being the first to take humans to another world, it would change America and western culture in ways no one at that time imagined.

I don’t have much to add. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words on this mission already. If you want to know more, you can read or listen to Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8.

What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.

In 1998, when I wrote Genesis, the mission had been largely forgotten, even though I knew and remembered how important it had been. When the book came out that year, during its thirtieth anniversary, I was pretty much the only one writing about it, expressing my strong desire to change this lack of recognition, to make people remember.

Today, none of the many articles about Apollo 8 make mention of my work. This is right and fitting. I wasn’t an astronaut on board. Nor did I build the rocket or capsule. I was merely a historian telling the story. However, if my poor effort has served to make others remember, and report the story correctly in 2018, its fiftieth anniversary, I can sleep peacefully when my time comes.

There will never be another first mission by humans to another world. We should remember that first journey, and honor it. I am glad we finally are doing so.

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Honoring the Apollo 8 astronauts

Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell

They are still here. Fifty years after becoming the first humans to leave Earth orbit and travel to another world, a mission that NASA believed only had a 50-50 chance of success, the three Apollo 8 astronauts are still with us, hale and hearty despite the passing of many years.

On October 6 the Museum of Science and Technology honored all three men with a magnificent event. The picture on the right was taken during that event, shortly after the three men, Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell (from left to right) had posed for a typical group shot. It far better reveals their personalities, with Borman looking outward, Anders thoughtful, and Lovell laughing.

Borman and Lovell are ninety years old, while Anders is about to turn eight-five on October 17. Yet, all three remain as sharp as they were in 1968, when they circled the Moon. Only the wear and tear of age and time is slowing them down. It was an honor to see them again and shake their hands. It was also sad, as it was clear that time stops for no one, no matter how deserving. Flying to the Moon on a mission that many thought incredibly risky couldn’t stop them. Time unfortunately will.

We are blessed to still have them. Once again during the dinner presentation they talked of their mission, kidding each other repeatedly about what had happened, and talking about why they went and what they thought the future might hold. Borman was pessimistic about the future of space, but then he remains fixated on the concept of a government program for space. Anders meanwhile was in touch with the rise of private commercial space, and advocated that it is where the future lies.

Lovell was Lovell, as always a space cadet, enthused for the future exploration of space, no matter how we do it.

This event is likely only the beginning. Over the next year there are going to many similar events, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary the 1960s Apollo triumph, right through to the landing in July. To me, however, it will always be Apollo 8 that had the most historical impact. Everything that happened afterward merely reinforced what that flight taught us.

Below the fold are two more pictures from the event.
» Read more

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IAU names two craters in honor of 50th anniversary Apollo 8 mission

Earthrise

The International Astronautical Union has named two craters “8 Homeward” and “Anders’ Earthrise,” both visible in astronaut Bill Anders iconic Earthrise image, in honor of the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon.

The Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union has today officially approved the naming of two craters on the Moon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission. The names are Anders’ Earthrise and 8 Homeward.

The newly named craters are visible in the foreground of the iconic Earthrise colour photograph taken by astronaut William Anders. It depicts the moment that our shiny blue Earth came back into view as the spacecraft emerged out of the dark from behind the grey and barren Moon. This is arguably the most famous picture taken by Apollo 8. It became iconic and has been credited with starting the environmental movement.

The image is to the right, with the two craters indicated. I have rotated the image so that the horizon is on the right, since is how Anders took it. As I noted in Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 (now available as both an ebook and audiobook),

Bill Anders’ photograph of earthrise, taken on December 24, 1968, possibly one of the most reprinted photographs ever taken. The way it is usually reproduced, however, with the Moon’s horizon at the bottom, is not how Bill Anders took it.

Instead, the way it is shown on the cover of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 is the way he framed it, with the Moon’s horizon on the right. This is also how it is framed at Bill Anders’s home, which also was the first time I had ever seen it oriented that way. When I asked Anders why it was framed that way, he answered, “That’s how I took it.”

To Anders, floating in zero gravity, the earth wasn’t rising from behind an horizon line (which is how a human living on a planet’s surface would perceive it). Instead, floating in a space capsule seventy miles above the moon, Anders saw himself circling the moon’s equator. The lunar horizon therefore appeared vertical to him, and the earth moved right to left as it came out from behind the moon.

In 1968 the IAU had refused to accept some of the astronauts’ naming choices. This honor now somewhat corrects that injustice.

UPDATE: One more historical note: On Saturday there will be a 50th Reunion Dinner for the Apollo 8 astronauts at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I will be attending, so today is a travel day.

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Celebrate Earthrise Day!

In only a little less than three months we will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the December 1968 flight of Apollo 8 — first manned mission to another world. During that mission three humans spent 20 hours in orbit around the Moon, during which they read the first twelve verses of the Old Testament on Christmas Eve and became the first humans to witness an Earthrise and to photograph it.

To celebrate that achievement, a new website has been created, dubbed Celebrate Earthrise Day.

The website provides some great background material. You can listen to the astronaut’s Christmas telecast as well as see a recreation of the moment when the astronauts saw that Earthrise and Bill Anders took his famous color photo. The site also includes many photos from before, during, and after the mission, with many pictures coming from the personal family pictures of the astronauts. There is also audio of an 1988 Bill Anders’ interview, as well as a video of a fascinating presentation made by Bill and Valerie Anders, describing their life journey leading up to Apollo 8 and afterward.

Finally, and I think of most interest to my readers here, the site includes the audio of my introduction from the new audio edition of my book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8.

The site also includes the audio of one of the best radio interviews I have ever done, broadcast in 1998, on the subject of Apollo 8, our American culture, and the importance of each person choosing their path in life wisely. You can find that audio at the bottom of this webpage.

Check it all out. I think you will find it worth your while.

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The man who suited up astronauts during the 1960s passes away at 101

R.I.P. Joseph Schmitt, the man who suited up all the astronauts during the 1960s, has passed away at 101.

Schmitt put Alan Shepard into his Freedom 7 capsule for the United States’ first spaceflight in May 1961, and he was still suiting up astronauts more than 20 years later, making sure everything was sealed and connected properly. Before any flight, he would spend long hours in the testing laboratory with the astronauts, getting them accustomed to their suits and troubleshooting problems.

He wrangled suits through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and into the space shuttle era, a span during which spacesuits went from being, essentially, modified military gear to high-tech creations that could protect an astronaut on a spacewalk or on a stroll on the moon.

An important man, but invisible at the time. In Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 I included pictures of the three Apollo 8 astronauts getting suited up, with one picture including an unnamed technician in the background whom I now suspect was Schmtt. Until now, I had never even noticed the technician at all. The focus was the astronauts, which though reasonable is also not really thorough. Everyone should always be credited for what they do, especially when what they do is hard, historically significant, and has to be done right. What Schmitt did was all those things.

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Genesis now available on Kindle

It took Amazon a bit longer than everyone else, but the ebook edition of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 is now available for Kindle at amazon.com.

And of course, it can also be purchased at all other ebook bookstores, as well as here at Behind the Black.

Update: My Tuesday appearance on John Batchelor has been moved up to tonight (Monday) from 11 to 11:30 pm, during which we will be discussing Genesis, the election, and some space news of the day,

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The new ebook edition of Genesis

I am thrilled to announce that the new ebook edition of my first book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, is now officially available for sale for only $5.99 from Mountain Lake Press. The direct link to Mountain Lake Press’s sales page is here and on the right. Within two weeks the book will also be available at all retailers, but if you buy it direct from Mountain Lake Press, I will make a little extra money, which would be very much appreciated.

In creating this ebook edition I made sure that all the graphics from the original but out-of-print hardback were included. Valerie Anders, the wife of astronaut Bill Anders, added her own thoughts in a new foreword. I also added a new introduction discussing how the history of space exploration has evolved since the book’s initial publication in 1998. As I noted,
» Read more

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Light posting

Just a note to explain the light posting yesterday and possibly today. I am reviewing the proof for the new ebook edition of my first book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8. Because the book is now out of print in both hardback and paperback, I want to have this new edition published and available for sale before the end of this month, which is why I must focus on getting that done quickly.

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