Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Earthrise: The Picture That Changed the World

Forty-five years ago tonight, an American serviceman took a photo from the window of his vehicle.

William Anders could not have imagined what that photo, developed from Kodachrome film and reproduced millions of times around the world, would mean to a billion people devastated by the most violent and destructive year in a quarter-century.

After Tet, and Martin, and Bobby, and Chicago, and Tricky Dick winning, it seemed nothing could rescue our spirits from the '68 Slough of Despond.

Then we saw it. For the first time in a million years of human existence, four billion years of the planet's existence, creatures from the surface of the earth got to see what our home - our only home - really looked like.

The Apollo moon program resulted in a legacy of thousands of images - all of them of immense value as both scientific and documentary records. Yet 30 years after the event most of them speak only as images from history.

However one particular Apollo photograph transcends all others, an image so powerful and eloquent that even today it ranks as one of the most important photographs taken by anyone ever.

The colour photograph of Earthrise - taken by Apollo 8 astronaut, William A. Anders, December 24, 1968. Although the photograph is usually mounted with the moon below the earth, this is how Anders saw it. This photograph was taken during the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, seven months before the first lunar landing ...

The 'Earthrise' photograph was not on the mission schedule and was taken in a moment of pure serendipity.

In order to take photographs of the far side of the moon the Apollo spacecraft had been rolled so that its windows pointed towards the lunar surface. During this time, the Moon was between the spacecraft and Earth, effectively cutting-off all radio communication with mission control. As Apollo 8 emerged from the far side on its fourth orbit, crew commander Frank Borman rolled the spacecraft so as to position its antennas for radio contact with mission control. Looking to the lunar horizon for reference he exclaimed - "Oh my God, look at that picture over there! Here's the Earth coming up!" ...

But regardless of which way the photograph was taken, the image shows our entire world as a small and blue and very finite globe, with our nearest celestial neighbour a desolate presence in the foreground.

US Nature photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken".
In the LA TImes, Susan Salter Reynolds reviews the new book 'Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth' by Robert Poole, "A stirring account of the iconic Earth portrait taken by the crew of Apollo 8 - and its consequences."
On Christmas Day, in the New York Times, Archibald MacLeish wrote that the image of Earth would create a paradigm shift: "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."


In "Earthrise," Poole explores the evolution of a shift just when the enormity of the possibility of nuclear war threatened to shut down our collective imagination, just when we were most paralyzed by our ability to destroy the Earth. "One thing was obvious to all," Poole quotes biologist Lewis Thomas: "while the moon was 'dead as an old bone,' the Earth was 'the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.'"
Earthrise is a revelation, and a promise, and a warning. This is who we are, this is what we can be, this is what is at stake.


Jack Jodell said...

Our fabulous achievement in sending astronauts to the moon and back in less than a full decade after we first undertook the mission should not only stand as a source of great wonder and pride. It should also remind and inspire us that we can achieve great things as a nation. The Great Depression? We overcame that in a little over a decade. World War II? We went from a small armed forces to the best equipped and strongest military on earth in less than 4 years! We Americans do our best and achieve the most when challenged strenuously. That is why I believe we will overcome our financial, energy, and security problems as we have always done---by banding together for the cause. With Obama providing inspiration and leadership, we WILL prevail!

solarity said...

Seems like just the opposite is true. We have become a timid, fearful nation beset with people who want big government to take all the risk out of life. The WWII war effort you speak of would be utterly impossible today. OSHA, unions, ACLU, trial lawyers, EPA, zoning laws, political activists, etc would make such a dramatic mobilization absolutely impossible. We will never even build another major interstate highway in this country because of the aforementioned. The Apollo missions actually had, are you ready for this ?, significant SAFETY RISKS. We would NEVER send people into space now at the risk levels we did with Apollo. The Shuttle program itself is only one more accident away from oblivion.

Sorry, your optimism is admirable but totally misplaced. The feminization of America is rapidly moving us in the exact opposite direction. The bankrupt nanny state awaits us all.

Jack Jodell said...

It is very disappointing to see such pessimism on your part. If, as you claim, we are hopelessly trapped in the nightmarish liberal "nanny state" you portray, how do you explain our abundant entrepreneurial spirit? If you study our history, you will see that, time and again, the American people have been stymied - temporarily - by great obstacles in our path, yet we have ALWAYS prevailed in the end with something new or modified which saved the day for us. There were those in the mid 1930s who pessimistically swore that the New Deal would destroy capitalism. In fact, the New Deal altered, but also SAVED capitalism! So, too, will we overcome our current problems, this time with a new set of standards and a new creativity Bitterness and a "woe is me" attitude never solved a problem yet and never will!.