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December 24, 1968: NASA Simulates Exactly What the Apollo 8 Astronauts Saw When They Took the Iconic Earthrise Photograph

Cutting-edge technology reveals how one of history’s most important images almost didn’t happen.

In the late morning of December 24, 1968, the cameras on NASA’s Apollo 8 spacecraft beamed back to humanity one of the two most iconic photographs ever taken from space — the other being the Pale Blue Dot, taken in 1990. But Earthrise, which depicted the magnificent and humbling view of Earth rising over the moon, almost didn’t happen.

In this fantastic video narrated by Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, NASA scientists use cutting-edge photo mosaics and elevation data from their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to reconstruct for the very first time, 45 years later, exactly what the Apollo 8 astronauts saw on that fateful morning and recount the unusual circumstances of that fortuitous happenstance.

In the altogether excellent Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth (public library), British historian Robert Poole further explores the extraordinary circumstances of that pioneering photograph and its monumental impact on our sense of place in the universe — a sense best captured by the poet Archibald MacLeish shortly after the debut of Earthrise, whose essay “Riders on the Earth” Poole points to as the perfect articulation of how the iconic photograph stirred humanity:

For the first time in all of time, men have seen the Earth. Seen it not as continents or oceans from the little distance of a hundred miles or two or three, but seen it from the depths of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small… To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know that they are truly brothers.


Published December 24, 2013




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