Apollo 8 Crew Captured Iconic Earthrise Image

This computer-generated visualization depicts the Apollo 8 spacecraft in orbit around the Moon, with Earth rising over the horizon. (Credits: NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Ernie Wright)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The year 1968 was one of the most turbulent in history. War was raging in Vietnam, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy were assassinated and the Cold War included the race to the Moon.

But at Christmastime a half-century ago, millions around the world paused to follow the flight of Apollo 8. For the first time, humans left Earth for a distant destination.

The mission was a key step toward meeting President John F. Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth” by the end of the decade.

The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp celebrating Apollo 8, the first human flight to the Moon. The design is based on the photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Dec. 24, 1968. The inscription recalls the crew reading the opening verses of the Bible’s book of Genesis during a live television broadcast (Credits: U.S. Postal Service)

In addition to gaining the first close-up views of the lunar surface, the cameras of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders also were focused back toward Earth.

While Borman maneuvered the Apollo spacecraft during the fourth lunar orbit, Anders was taking pictures of the surface. He then glanced at the Moon’s horizon.

“Oh, my god, look at that picture over there,” Anders said. “Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.”

No Apollo 8 photograph was more stunning than his image that has come to be known as “Earthrise.”

On May 5, 1969, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp celebrating the first human flight to the Moon. The design is based on Anders’ Christmas Eve picture of the lunar surface with the Earth 234,000 miles away.

Anders later put the photography of Apollo in perspective.

“We came all this way to explore the Moon,” he said, “and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”