Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders Reflects on Earthrise Picture

by Nancy Atkinson on April 22, 2008

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In December of 1968, the Apollo 8 capsule had successfully gone into orbit around the moon and the crew was busy taking pictures of the lunar surface. On the third orbit, as the Apollo spacecraft was coming around from behind the moon, commander Frank Borman lookup up and called out, “Wow! Look at that!” The Earth was “rising” over the stark lunar horizon. Borman had a camera with black and white film, and he actually took the first picture of Earth rising over the moon. But Bill Anders had a color camera with a long lens, and he took the color photo that’s become an icon, known simply as “Earthrise.”

On Earth Day, Bill Anders reflected on the famous picture that’s become one of the most frequently used images ever.

Anders said even though it wasn’t in the original flight plan to take pictures of Earth, it didn’t take much time for him to realize how striking this view of the Earth was, and quickly snapped the celebrated image.

“I instantly thought it was ironic; we had come all this way to study the moon, and yet it was this view of the Earth that was one of the most important events for Apollo 8,” said Anders in an interview on NASA TV.

“There are basically two messages that came to me,” Anders said of the picture. “One of them is that the planet is quite fragile. It reminded me of a Christmas tree ornament. But the other message to me, and I don’t think this one has really sunk in yet, is that the Earth is really small. We’re not the center of the universe; we’re way out in left field on a tiny dust mote, but it is our home and we need to take care of it.”

Anders said it didn’t take long after the crew had returned home for this photograph to become iconic for the environmental movement.

“Back in the 60’s it gave us a sense that the world was a place we all shared together,” Anders said. “We couldn’t see any boundaries from space.”

In addition to the important pictures of Earth, the Apollo 8 crew also photographed many smaller lunar features, that were previously undiscovered. Those features are located principally on the farside of the Moon in areas that had been photographed only at much greater distances by early robotic spacecraft. The Apollo 8 mission yielded more than 150 photographs of the Earth and more than 700 photographs of the Moon.

Original News Source: NASA TV

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Ethan Siegel April 22, 2008 at 6:56 AM

Happy Earth day! I’d like to join you in the science blogging community in posting about our own planet today!

Vic Stryker - astronomer April 22, 2008 at 9:38 AM

It was very nice reading Bill Anders recolections about the Apollo 8 flight and fotos of Earth from Moon :-) But it also stirred up some bitter and absurd memories about Apollo 8.
I was at McDonald Observatory during that flight and NASA gave us the telescope coordinates for Apollo 8 on its way to Moon and we got an amazing foto of the Apollo spacecraft and its booster going to MOON for first time with human beings in those far away and small fragile spacecraft.

Yrs later. I finally tracked down Frank Boprman’s email and I sent him via email a copy of the foto and he never even thanked me ! Then when I wrote to ask if he had recieved them.. and why he felt unobliged to thank me. He then wrote that he did not like my attitude. He is “in my opinion” an asshole !

So, sure, we probably needed tough guy jockass pilots to fly for NASA… But my illusion of the specialness and grandure of the space program was shattered from Mr Borman’s – to me inexcusable bad manners and attitude !

Todd Sieling April 22, 2008 at 12:36 PM

@Vic

Let me get this straight – you commemorate the event of what is arguably the most important photograph in human history with a rant about how you were slighted by Bill Anders? Congratulations – I never would have thought it possible vaulting their petty personal differences over something so significant, but you’ve proven me wrong. It’s not great that your interaction with Bill didn’t go well, but to bring it to this post to flog it in public is quite sad.

Vic Stryker - astronomer April 22, 2008 at 5:51 PM

NO Frank Borman – in my opinion was an inexcusable asshole ! Bill Andres comments were and are quite beautiful ! To me this world will be a better place once people’s egos learn to always say please and thank you!

thank you !

Vic

Rob April 22, 2008 at 6:07 PM

If you take the image above and rotate it 90 degrees counter clockwise then that is the actual orientation anders shot the photo at. Which I think is actually a more interesting pov. They were orbiting at the moon’s equator and coming around from the dark side of the moon (cue pink floyd tune) in a clockwise direction when it was snapped.

The image has been popularly reproduced as above to give a sense of looking up from the moon’s surface towards horizon. I prefer the original.

Mike April 23, 2008 at 5:40 AM

Like others, I’ve met a good number of Apollo (and other) astronauts over the years. I’ve found them all to be warm, approachable and surprisingly humble. It’s a shame that your ‘illusion of the specialness and grandure of the space program was shattered’ by this experience of one astronaut. Sometimes we have to remember that despite being astronauts, they are still ‘only’ people with their own little traits and habits, just like the rest of us!
It would be a terrible shame to let one bad experience shatter your illusion (which in my opinion isnt an illusion!)

Shane April 23, 2008 at 4:19 AM

Let me get this straight. Mr Vic Stryker is upset at Frank Borman due to lack of an EMAIL response??

We of course KNOW emails never get lost don’t we?

Thanks for givin the guy a break.

[sheesh]

Todd Sieling April 23, 2008 at 8:35 AM

My mistake on the names involved, but I still think that bringing the petty namecalling to this story is childish.

Jeremy April 24, 2008 at 11:51 AM

Seems like they would have seen a similar image when the earth was first disappearing behind the moon. They would have been seeing the dark side of the moon then, so perhaps the contrast between the moon and earth was too much for a good photo.

Huygens November 7, 2008 at 1:48 PM

I have met both Frank Borman and Jim Lovell and to be honest, I did not care for either of them.

I don’t mean to shatter the illusions people have of our Hero Astronauts, but they are definitely human, not superbeings.

Lovell also tried to take credit for the famous Apollo 8 Earthrise photo for years, until Andy Chaikin smoked out the truth: Bill Anders had to get his coworkers to take what one might think was an amazing and unique sight, but one should also realize most of the early astronauts were conservative in many ways.

Lovell has only become even more arrogant since he was played by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13.

Again, my apologies for those who worship heroes uncritically and have trouble handling the reality.

hal lewis December 21, 2008 at 3:34 PM

And I have known Bill Anders reasonably well for years, and he is a first-rate guy. Badmouth the others as much as you wish, but not him.

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