From Earth we look up at the Moon lighting up the night sky. We go about our day to day lives within our bubble in a sense. Our world is our bubble.
So what were people thinking when the firsts images of the Earth were broadcasted all around our world? Let’s start by focusing on how these pictures came to be. The crew of Apollo 8 were in orbit around the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, when something truly breathtaking happened.
Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, that is pretty!
Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Borman: (Laughter). You got a colour film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of colour quick, will you –
Lovell: Oh man, that’s great!
Anders: Hurry. Quick…
Lovell: Take several of them! Here, give it to me…
Borman: Calm down, Lovell.
(POOLE, Roberts, 2008)
Now we know they were talking about Earthrise.
Date: 24 December 1968
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With the main goal of manned missions to challenge the boundaries of space and what could be discovered or hidden out there, the crew on board Apollo 8 are now looking down on their home, the Earth, in all its beauty.
The commander, Frank Borman, later recalled that moment. ‘I happened to glance out of one of the still-clear windows just at the moment the Earth appeared over the lunar horizon. It was the most beautiful, heart catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer home-sickness, surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any colour to it. Everything else was either black or white, but not the Earth’. (POOLE, Roberts, 2008)
‘Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilences don’t show from that distance,’ he commented afterwards. ‘We are one hunk of ground, water, air, clouds, floating around in space. From out there it really is “one world.”’ ‘Up there, it’s a black-and-white world,’ explained James Lovell. ‘There’s no colour. In the whole universe, wherever we looked, the only bit of colour was back on Earth. It was the most beautiful thing there was to see in all the heavens. People down here don’t realise what they have.’ (POOLE, Roberts, 2008)
While space enthusiasts looked outward on the Earth to broader space, what excited the wider public was the view from space back to the Earth. After all, anyone can look out at the night sky and see the moon and stars, but only a selected few can see the Earth as a whole.
Almost four years after Apollo 8, the last of the Apollo missions brought back a more famous photograph, the ‘Blue Marble’, shot of the full Earth.
When this photo circulated around the World, people started taking an interest in the Earth’s environment. They saw the Earth as a natural beauty that needed to be preserved. Personally, I would be more focussed on respecting the environment for the survival of the human race, but I guess the less selfish way of saying that is preserving the natural beauty of the Earth.
As Andrew Smith has written in his book ‘Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to the Earth’, ‘there seem to have been two sharply delineated space programmes running parallel within the programme – an official one about engineering and flying and beating the Soviets, and an unofficial, almost clandestine other about people and their place in the universe; about consciousness, God, mind, life.’ It is this unofficial space programme that interests us now. (SMITH, Andrew, 2005)
The Earth is a concept with which I have grown up with my whole life. I have always known what it looks like through pictures that I have seen in my childhood. But as someone living in the 60’s and 70’s were seeing their existence in the bigger picture of the World, what were they thinking? Were they scared or excited, or even lost? Did they wonder what was hiding in the darkness of the sky? Or wondering whether there was life after Earth? These are all questions we still don’t know the answers to today, and might not know in our lifetime.
POOLE, Roberts (2008), ‘Earthrise – seen for the first time by human eyes’ Published by Yale
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SMITH, Andrew (2005), ‘Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth’, published by Harper Collins Fourth Estate
Audio of the conversation between Frank Borman and William Anders, during the taking of the Earthrise photograph. Link stored on this page.