A Christmas Miracle

December 24, 2011

It is an iconic photograph. The only record of a particular Christmas Miracle I witnessed – still percolating in our popular culture.

Its subject – our lonely planet – rising above the surface of the moon.

It was snapped on this date 43 years ago aboard Apollo 8 – by Astronaut William Anders.

Prior to this trip, no human had seen the dark side of our nearest celestial neighbor.

This description of this photo appears on a NASA website:

In December of 1968, the Apollo 8 crew flew from the Earth to the Moon and back again. Frank BormanJames Lovell, and William Anders were launched atop a Saturn V rocket on December 21, circled the Moon ten times in their command module, and returned to Earth on December 27. The Apollo 8 mission’s impressive list of firsts includes: the first humans to journey to the Earth’s Moon, the first manned flight using the Saturn V, and the first to photograph the Earth from deep space. As the Apollo 8 command module rounded the farside of the Moon, the crew could look toward the lunar horizon and see the Earth appear to rise, due to their spacecraft’s orbital motion. The famous picture that resulted, of a distant blue Earth above the Moon’s limb, was a marvelous gift to the world.

And no one could forsee the impact of this single photographic image. It has been called the most influential environmental photograph ever taken – and one of the 100 photographs that changed the world.

Some claim it galvanized earthlings to start the Earth Day movement the following year.

Unlike our present day photographic  habits, with nearly limitless digital space on which to store images, the photo was taken from a very limited, precious, rationed store of color photographic film.

As the Apollo 8 spacecraft orbited around the moon, all radio contact with the crew was interrupted each time the moon passed around the dark side of the moon.

As Commander Borman maneuvered the craft and saw the Earth for the first time, he is quoted as saying…

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up!”

He grabbed a camera loaded with Black and White film and took the first pictures of Earthrise including the one below.

Even though I favor the Black and White version, I have always been struck that the Color photo is the more popular image, probably because it is in Color and the orientation of the photo was changed to place the moon’s horizon parallel to the bottom of the image – more like a traditional moon rise, or sunset.

The three astronauts alone in their tin can on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968 also presented a live television broadcast from lunar orbit to the people of earth.  They showed pictures live images of the Earth and Moon –

And Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell said the following.

“The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”

Then, they switched the cameras off – and three days later returned safely to Earth.

And the miracle?

The bravery of the Astronauts. The triumph of the Technology. A Christmas Eve speech that was address to all the people’s of the world and not just Americans. And the iconic photo that gave birth to a change in world perception.



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