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The fascinating story behind ‘Earthrise’ — the most famous picture of Earth ever taken — which turns 54 today

earthrise apollo nasa AS8 14 2383HRThe famous “Earthrise” photo taken by Apollo 8 astronauts during their trip around the moon on December 24, 1968.


  • “Earthrise” is the first image of Earth captured by humans from space
  • The photo of Earth was taken aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968, by lunar module pilot Bill Anders.
  • The image highlighted Earth’s fragility, since it was seen against the vast blackness of space.

On December 24, 1968 — exactly 54 years ago — Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to circle the moon.

The mission was historic, but equally memorable was the famous “Earthrise” photo that resulted, showing Earth rising above the lunar landscape.

Until that point, no human eyes had ever seen our blue marble from so far away.

In Life Magazine’s “100 Photographs That Changed the World,” acclaimed wilderness photographer Galen Rowell described the unprecedented view of Earth as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

The image of our planet, which appeared small and vulnerable suspended in the blackness of space, made people more aware of its fragility.

“Earthrise” is now one of the most reproduced space photos of all time, appearing on US postage stamps, posters, and the cover of Time magazine in 1969. Many have pointed out the irony of the photo, since Apollo 8 was sent to study and take pictures of the moon’s surface — not Earth.

“Of all the objectives NASA had set before launch, no one had thought of photographing the Earth from lunar orbit,” Robert Zimmerman wrote in his book “Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: the First Manned Flight to Another World.”

The famous photo was taken during the mission’s fourth pass around the moon, at which point the spacecraft had changed its orbit, making it possible to see the Earth above the lunar horizon. 

Apollo 8From left to right: Apollo 8 crew James A. Lovell Jr., William A. Anders, and Frank Borman, are photographed in their space suits at the Kennedy Space Center simulator.


None of the astronauts were prepared for the moment, including lunar module pilot Anders, who had been put in charge of photography.

In an interview for a BBC documentary in 2012, Anders described the sequence of events: “I don’t know who said it, maybe all of us said, ‘Oh my God. Look at that!’ and up came the Earth. We had had no discussion on the ground, no briefing, no instructions on what to do. I jokingly said, ‘well, it’s not on the flight plan,’ and the other two guys were yelling at me to give them cameras. I had the only color camera with a long lens. So I floated a black and white over to Borman. I can’t remember what Lovell got. There were all yelling for cameras, and we started snapping away.”

Initially, both Borman and Anders claimed responsibility for the now-famous picture. An investigation of transcripts later revealed that Borman, who was the first to recognize the importance of the moment, took a black-and-white photo before Anders snapped the iconic color photograph.

Fred Spier, a senior lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, wrote in his article “The Elusive Apollo 8 Earthrise Photo” that Borman and Lovell each played a crucial part in prompting Anders, who had the only color camera, to take the shot.

“Experienced astronaut Frank Borman was the first to the importance of the picture, while equally experienced astronaut James Lovell was quick to follow,” Spier writes. “Space rookie William Anders, however, was in charge of taking the photos. In doing so, Anders had to follow a rather tight and well-defined photo plan, in which there was little or no room for unplanned snapshots.”

Spier continued: “Anders first offered some resistance and then quickly did what the other told him to do. Although it now seems beyond doubt that Anders actually snapped the famous picture, it also seems fair to say the picture came as a result of the combined efforts of all three astronauts.”

Read the original article on Business Insider