21 December 2018
The “Earth Rise” image, taken as Apollo 8 entered orbit around the Moon, is considered to be the one image that changed the way we see our planet. Before that photo, all but a few looked at the wilderness and nature in general as something to be tamed, but the stunning photo of Earth rising above the desolation of the Moon changed that. It’s hard to overstate the impact of that picture to those of us living in 1968.
We all saw for the very first time, in living color, our fragile home in a cold and dark cosmos. That one image changed the way most people thought about the wild places and untamed wilderness. The first Earth Day was just 16 months after Bill Anders snapped that photo and the Clean Air and Clean Water acts followed just behind.
If you are under 58 years old, you really cannot imagine the impact that photo had on everyone who first saw it.
Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell were the first human beings to see the Earth from afar. All of them are still living 50 years later, and I’ve shaken hands with James Lovell (My mouth was dry for an hour afterward.)! What they saw and what they shared with us, changed how we see ourselves. You could make a good argument that the Earthrise photo made the price of the entire Apollo program worth the cost.
Apollo 8 was out of contact with Earth as that photo was taken, but the onboard tape recorder on Apollo 8 recorded the astronauts taking it and 5 years ago, NASA used data from the high-resolution images of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Apollo 8 position data to recreate just what the astronauts saw, and merged it with the audio. Watch the video below, and go back 50 years to Christmas Eve 1968, in orbit above the Moon.
What they saw and what they shared with us, changed how we see ourselves, and we had little idea then about the damage we are doing to our livable climate. The Earth was a different place in 1968; it’s warmer and much more polluted in 2018. The oceans are higher and there is far less ice at the Poles. Carbon Dioxide levels were around 325 ppm then, and now they are over 410 ppm and rising rapidly. Just this month, the top experts told the world we have a little more than a decade to reverse significantly our use of fossil fuels. If we do not, mother nature herself will tame us, and it will be too late to say sorry.