Looking back, looking forward: Christmas with Apollo 8

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LPR/MPR sport flier with an eye to HPR and scale
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Jul 29, 2021
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Poway, CA
December 24th, 1968. Christmas Eve. Over the years preceding this date, America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration worked tirelessly on the successful organization and unleashing of the colossal power of liquid-fueled rocket engines for a singular purpose: to land a human-crewed spacecraft on the Moon by 1970 and return its occupants safely to Earth. Although this goal had not yet been realized, Apollo 8 orbited the moon over the Christmas holiday, and in doing so created an iconic moment in human history.

It was during this mission that the Apollo crew, comprised of Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell, read aloud from the Book of Genesis, recounting the ancient tale of God creating the heavens and the Earth, for an audience of 1 billion people through the then-latest in television broadcast technology.

It was also on that mission that Anders snapped an image that would become immediately iconic: the Earth, just over half visible, appearing to rise over the lunar landscape as the Command Service Module orbited the Moon.


Anders would later comment, "When I looked up and saw the Earth coming up on this very stark, beat-up Moon horizon, I was immediately almost overcome with the thought, 'Here we came all this way to the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth.'"

Anders and his crewmates were not alone in recognizing the significance of what they saw. Soviet spacefarer Yuri Gagarin reported similar thoughts during his seminal orbital space flight in 1961, and the sight of Earth from space has routinely prompted similar shifts in awareness in space travelers to the present day.

They describe Earth as suddenly seeming small and fragile, hanging in a hostile and lifeless universe, omnipresent blue sky replaced by the thin glow of an atmosphere surrounding the visible disk, itself surrounded by the darkest empires of eternal void. They also remark on its stunning beauty, radiating a sense of comfort as humanity’s home, and feeling duty-bound to protect it from those who would do it harm. Many are moved to tears.

Author Frank White described these cognitive processes in his 1987 book The Overview Effect, which gives the phenomenon its name.

It should come as little surprise that the Earthrise image and others like it combined with a series of contemporary manmade disasters to kickstart the modern environmentalist movement.

So celebrate as you wish over this Christmas holiday, but be sure to take a good long look at this image, understand what it means, and think on the accomplishments of the Apollo crews. Turn your eyes towards your community, your country, and Planet Earth, your home, and take steps to ensure its resources will continue to be available to provide for us when we need them. Some actions are small, others are enormous, and all are critical to the preservation of our only known hospitable place in our vast, desolate universe. With enough work done, with enough sacrifice made, perhaps one day we will know peace on a protected, healthy Earth, and goodwill toward men.
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Today the SUN is "born again" as it rises 1 degree on the horizon, after being at it's lowest point for the last 3 days.
I can just barely remember this - I was five years old.

I do remember our tv broke the day they landed on the moon. We went to a bar and watched on their tv.
Thanks, @smstachwick! I don't know why I just saw this, but it's always a good reminder of a very good memory. I had just turned 13 and it was indeed an inspiration to hear that broadcast, the Genesis reading and considering where it was coming from - as a young boy I was awestruck. Now that I am much older, I appreciate even more the courage and ability of those men. That took an inordinate amount of raw "guts" to be the first crew to walk over that bridge to a 6.5 million pound flying skyscraper and know that IF all goes well, you will be flying to the moon, and hopefully, flying back, and hopefully reentering without becoming barbecue, etc. Lots and lots of places for things to go wrong on the first "all up" Saturn V - Apollo manned launch.