Fifty years ago, Dec. 24 1968, on Christmas Eve, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman, aboard Apollo 8, orbited the moon for the fourth time. They extensively photographed it looking for interesting features, including potential landing sites for future missions.
From the official NASA mission log, we can read exactly to the hour, minute, second what was occurring:
“Bill has been using another Hasselblad with a 250-millimeter lens to take photographs of so-called ‘targets of opportunity’ on mag E loaded with black and white film.”
“075:46:47 Anders (onboard): The impact crater was at — just prior to subsolar point on the south side, in the floor of it, [garble] — There is one dark hole, and I couldn’t get a quick enough look at it to see if it might be anything volcanic.”
At this point, Bill Anders looks out window five and catches sight of a beautifully colored orb coming over the moon’s horizon.
“075:47:30 Anders (onboard): Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!
“075:47:37 Borman (onboard): Hey, don’t take that; it’s not scheduled. (Chuckle.)”
Anders quickly switched to color film to capture what became “Earthrise,” an iconic image of the Earth rising over the moonscape. The image became the cover of the March 1969 National Geographic, and people, for the first time, could see themselves from a distant perspective: our beautiful, blue-marble home floating in the blackness of space.
Many astronauts since have remarked on similar things: How precious and singular our world looks from space. How you cannot see man-made borders. How Earth contrasts with the lifeless moon or void of space. Anders later remarked, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
Eleven hours later, the three astronauts prepared for a broadcast to Earth. NASA wanted something appropriate for Christmas Eve. Moved by their experience, they choose a reading from Genesis because a number of religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have the passage in their holy books. In the ninth orbit, Anders read verses 1-4, Lovell read verses 5-8, and Borman read verses 9-10.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness, he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
“And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear’: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
Borman then added “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with ‘Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.’”
Within seconds, the astronauts ended the broadcast and returned to the busy work of flying the ship. They didn’t, however, seem to lose the sense of wonder they experienced from where they floated, a quarter of a million miles from Earth, while circling its satellite, the moon:
“086:08:54 Lovell (onboard): Okay, let’s get the spacecraft back in even keel again. Here, here’s this, Frank.
“086:09:06 Borman (onboard): All right, let’s get the Flight Plan out here.
“086:09:09 Borman (onboard): We’ve got to get it.
“086:09:11 Lovell (onboard): Okay.
“086:09:21 Anders (onboard): Whew! Pretty impressive out there.
“086:09:22 Borman (onboard): Boy, it sure is.”
And from me at Weber State University to you, whatever your tradition, Happy Holidays to all of you on the good Earth.