Exploring the Moon, Discovering Earth
July 17, 2009:
Forty years ago, Apollo astronauts set out on a daring adventure to explore the Moon. They ended up discovering their own planet.
How do you discover Earth … by leaving it? It all started with a single photograph:
Apollo 8 was the first crewed Saturn V launch and the first time humans were placed in lunar orbit. Mission plans called for the astronauts to photograph possible landing sites for future missions. Before this, only robotic probes had taken images of the Moon’s far side.
As the astronauts in their spacecraft emerged from behind the Moon, they were surprised and enchanted by an amazing view of Earth rising over the lunar horizon. Bill Anders quickly snapped a picture of the spectacular Earthrise – it was not in the mission script.
His timing could not have been better. It was Christmas Eve, 1968, the close of one of the most turbulent, fractured years in U.S. and world history. The picture offered a much needed new perspective on “home.”
For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. Therewas a home worthy of careful stewardship.