What the Astronauts Saw as They Orbited the Moon During Apollo 17

This view always gets me *right there.* But this new version really gets me.

This is what Apollo 17 astronauts saw in December of 1972 as they came around the farside of the Moon: the blue and white crescent Earth rising above the stark lunar horizon. And now image editing guru Kevin Gill has sharpened the image, giving it more texture, color and contrast. I can imagine this sharp, spectacular view must be close to what the astronauts saw with their own eyes.  

“There I was, and there you are, the Earth – dynamic, overwhelming…” said Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan.  

Original Apollo 17 image of the crescent Earth and Moon, via Arizona State University’s Apollo Digital Image Archive.

Almost all the Apollo astronauts commented on how stunning the blue marble of Earth looked in contrast to the blackness of space, as well as to the bland, gray-ness of the Moon.

Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart told me that seeing the whole Earth from the Moon was absolutely a transformational experience for humanity.

“While this happened for the first time to the astronauts on Apollo 8, in reality, it happened to all of us,” he said. “For me, that is the significant thing about Apollo: For the first time, we had the ability to understand the preciousness and uniqueness of life; to realize that we are the only life in this little corner of the universe. And now, after 50 years, we’ve come to understand that we can be an extremely strong and powerful influence on where the evolution of human life goes from here.”

Apollo 17 was the final Apollo mission to the Moon, and Kevin Gill recently posted a few images of the crew and their mission on Twitter. There are links below to some of his other Apollo 17 image enhancements he’s done on Flickr, which you should really, truly check out. He does stunning work.

Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt and Ron Evans.

But the Moon wasn’t totally bland, as Apollo 17 moonwalkers Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt found out. They came across some orange soil on the lunar surface. “The moon is bland in color, Cernan said. “I call it shades of gray. You know, the only color we see is what we bring or the Earth, which is looking down upon us all the time. And to find orange soil on the moon was a surprise.”

The Apollo program was a remarkable time in history. We’ll be revisiting the Apollo 14-17 missions in more depth as their 50th anniversaries approach. You can read more about the engineering challenges in the run-up to the mission and people who truly worked behind the scenes in my book “Eight Years to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Missions.”

Thanks, as always, to Kevin Gill for sharing his wonderful image editing work. See more at Flickr, Twitter and Instagram.

The crescent Earth rises above the lunar horizon in this spectacular photograph taken by the Apollo 17 crew in lunar orbit in December, 1972, during NASA’s final lunar landing mission in the Apollo program. Credit: NASA. Image editing and enhancement: Kevin Gill.

One Reply to “What the Astronauts Saw as They Orbited the Moon During Apollo 17”

  1. Great article. Just a point of correction. Rusty Schweickart could not have commented on directly seeing the Earth from the moon as he (and Apollo 9) never left Earth orbit.

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