As one of the most tumultuous years in American history drew to a close, the nation shifted their attention skyward to the live broadcast on December 24, 1968. On Christmas Eve, three crews of Apollo Mission 8 entered lunar orbit and held a live broadcast, showing pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. In front of the largest TV audience to date, U.S. astronauts described the experience of being the first humans in lunar orbit while transmitting close-up footage of the moon’s features. Millions around the world were watching and listening to broadcast. As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone “on the good Earth.”
“We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice, and the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate”
— Borman during 40th anniversiry celebration in 2008
Mission 8 was planned to compete in the “Space Race” with the Soviet Union to assert the dominance of the space superpowers, as indicated by the 1968 rescue agreement. It carried the responsibility to take high-resolution photographs of the moon surface —both from the far side and the potential landing site of the near side. Also, it aimed to examine the perfect spot for potential landing(realized in 1969 by Neil Armstrong ) and ensured that the spot will provide the best chance of survival once astronauts landed. The mission was also famous for the iconic “Earthrise” image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Taking this picture was not on the schedule and was taken in a moment of pure serendipity.
Before the well-known colored earthrise was finally captured, a black-and-white image was taken on Borman’s order. It is the first photo of earth taken by human beings.
Anders: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty?
Borman: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled. (joking)
Anders: (laughs) You got a color film, Jim.? Hand me a roll of color quick, would you?
Lovell: Oh man, that’s great! Where is it?
Anders: Hurry! Quick!
Lovell: Down here?
Anders: Just grab me a color. A color exterior. Hurry up.
Anders: Got one?
Lovell: Yeah I am looking for one. C368.
Anders: Anything, quick.
As Earth Day approaches on April 22, we are reminded by this picture of how the earth is one whole unit that needs to be protected. It’s easy for us now to take this understanding of the Earth for granted, but before the Space Age, it was relatively uncommon to view the Earth this way. The”Earthrise” photograph, taken from a distance of 378,700 kilometers, quickly became a literal and influential embodiment of this view, helping to inspire both the environmental movement and, in 1970, the first Earth Day.
These images, along with hundreds of other still pictures taken of the whole Earth during Apollo’s nine flights to the Moon, helped to drive the momentum of a burgeoning green movement during the 1970s. They fuelled an awareness of the vulnerability of the Earth which still resonates with us today and shapes our behavior.
— Christopher Riley
As this picture was utilized in several ways, the most influential use is when “Earthrise as skull” showed up in one Earth Day poster. It is a conceptual image of the Earth as a skull rising over the surface of the Moon. This can represent deaths caused by environmental destruction on Earth and call on people to protect the environment as part of the Earth Day mission.
“Earthrise” showcases various concepts of collective memories. For example, it demonstrates-along with the full-size model of Mission 8 itself exhibited in 1968 exhibit-several of Zelizer’s premises. Firstly, it represents materiality. The photograph itself well embodies the materiality since after people imagine what the planet they are living is like, it gives them an authentic answer by sending this photograph from the outer space. Additionally, it was materialized by the U.S. Postal Service when a stamp (Scott# 1371) was issued to commemorate the Apollo 8 flight around the Moon. Another evidence of its materiality is that this iconic picture appeared on the cover of the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture magazine propagating ecology and Do It Yourself (DIY). Moreover, this picture was demonstrated in a material way when it was handed to Rome’s Mayor as a gift and dubbed “The Picture of Rome”. On the other hand, the memory of “Earthrise” is processual as it has transcended its original purpose that instead of just being a scientific and documentary record speaking only as photography from history, it related people to the environmental movement including Earth Day. The “Earthrise” picture also represents Schudson’s instrumentalization as the memory of it selects in the service of present interest. In the 1960s and 70s, it was selected to cater the president’s wish to win the space race. With the end of the space race, it served to advocate the environmental protection when worldwide contamination was going to be severe. When the 45th anniversary of Apollo Mission 8 came, a simulation video was released which in some way demonstrated the brilliant technology era.
NASA released a simulation video in 2013 on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 8 and the recording of three astronauts was first known to people.
Collective memory as it was, “Earthrise” is also a striking reminder of Earth’s vulnerability. We may have forgotten three courageous astronauts who died in the fatal fire of the Apollo 1 rehearsal test, the people who risked their lives getting to the Moon and who explored its dead landscape – a ‘beat-up’ world as they put it – but the view they brought back of that glittering blue hemisphere continues to mesmerize. Additionally, when everybody in the world–especially the Americans who suffered from its toughest year of history–lives in sorrow, the capture of the earthrise gives people the opportunity to see their planet as a whole and conveys a sense of peace, a stark contrast to wars at that time. Also, in great contradiction, while the moon was ‘dead as an old bone,’ the Earth was ‘the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. Later after Mission 8 that year, amid the millions of letters from well-wishers around the world, the mission commander, Frank Borman, received a telegram from one American citizen that simply read: “Thank You Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”
- NASA Content Administrator. “Apollo 8: Christmas at the Moon.” NASA, 19 Dec. 2014 https://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/features/apollo_8.html
- Greenspan Jesse. “Remembering the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Broadcast.” History,23 Nov. 2015 https://www.history.com/news/remembering-the-apollo-8-christmas-eve-broadcast
- Robert Zimmerman. Genisis: The Story of Apollo 8. The Sciences, Nov/Dec 1998
(pub Four Walls Eight Windows)”That Photograph” http://www.abc.net.au/science/moon/earthrise.htm
- Ernie Wright. “The Making of an Icon: Earthrise.” NASA, 24 April. 2018 http://nasawavelength.org/blog/making-icon-earthrise
- Catherine G. Wagley. “The Whole Earth: The Story of an Image That Changed The World.” Adobe Create Magazine, 18 April. 2016. https://create.adobe.com/2016/4/18/the_whole_earth_the_story_of_an_image_that_changed_the_world.html
- Jack Clemons. “Thank You for Saving 1968 (a parable for our times). Amazing Stories, 30 Dec. 2016 https://amazingstoriesmag.com/2016/12/thank-you-for-saving-1968/