On December 24, 1968, three Apollo 8 astronauts became the first humans to orbit the Moon. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were onboard the spacecraft when Anders took the iconic Earthrise photo.
In a recent interview with NASA’s Chief Scientist and Senior Climate Advisor Dr. Katherine Calvin, Anders looks back on the historic event. He talks about how he took the legendary image 55 years ago, sharing some fun but also tense moments that happened behind the scenes.
Anders told Dr.Calvin that he’d had some photography training before he and the other two astronauts were sent on the mission. He was shooting with a Hasselblad camera and black and white film when he first spotted the Earth rising. “We were in lunar orbit, upside down and going backwards,” Anders told Dr. Calvin. “So for the first revolutions, we didn’t see the Earth and I didn’t really think about that.”
“And then we righted ourselves, you know, heads up, and twisted the spacecraft so it was going forward, and while Frank Borman was in the process of doing that, suddenly I saw in the corner of my eye this color. It was shocking.”
In the interview, you can see the Earth as it appears over the moon’s horizon and hear the astronauts talking. Seeing the Earth appearing, Anders asked Lovell to quickly pass him a roll of color film. He didn’t want to miss this opportunity. As he didn’t have a light meter, he had to take a few photos and change the settings each time to make sure he got it right. And after the film was developed… Well, the rest is history.
What I learned from this video is that Earthrise is the reason why we celebrate Earth Day on April 22. It was precisely this image that inspired it. Anders said that the Earth reminded him of a fragile Christmas tree ball as he saw it from the spacecraft. When he first looked at it from such a distance, he wondered why we don’t treat our planet as the fragile ball that it is.
“We went to the moon to explore the moon, and what we discovered was the Earth,” he said. “It makes people think, the fragile little ball that we live on.”