Apollo 8’s ‘Earthrise’ 45 Years Later

Forty-five years ago today,the world was treated to the first picture of itself from orbit around another planetary body.

Apollo 8 Earthrise

Forty five years ago today, the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman II, James Lovell Jr, and William Anders, became the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth’s orbit, orbit the Moon, and return home safely. It was, quite obviously, an important moment for the Apollo program that ultimately led to the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon just seven months later. During the course of that mission, as the three astronauts spent Christmas Eve alone in a spacecraft orbiting Earth’s only natural satellite, they took one of the most stunning photographs in human history, the photo of the Earth rising above the Lunar surface which has come to be known a “Earthrise”. NASA has spent this week marking the occasion:

 On Dec. 24, 1968—45 years ago this week—by what is essentially coincidence and fast thinking, one of the most iconic photographs in human history was taken: Earthrise over the Moon.

It occurred during Apollo 8 as astronauts Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Frank Borman were orbiting the Moon—the first humans in history to do so. Their orbital motion brought the Earth into view over the Moon’s horizon, moving slowly upward into the black sky. The photographs taken became a symbol of human exploration, and of our fragile and beautiful planet.

The good folks at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center’s Scientific Visualization Studio took data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and carefully matched it to the photographs taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts, allowing them to recreate the events that led to the history-changing moment. They put together a wonderful video,


Wondrous. And the importance of that photo cannot be overstated. Seeing our home world floating by itself, lonely and unprotected, in all that black … it’s been credited for starting the environmental movement, and certainly provides an extraordinary perspective on our place in the Universe.

As it turns out, the Apollo 8 crew almost missed its chance to take the picture, as the video re-creation below explains:

In addition to the video, of course, the Apollo 8 crew was also able to communicate back home with Earth, and used the moment to help create what became a television moment that has become every bit as iconic as the photograph itself:


William Anders

“We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Jim Lovell

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Frank Borman

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas — and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

Finally, here’s a third video comparing the 1968 photograph with one taken in 2007 by a Japanese Lunar observatory:

Truly an iconic moment in human history.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. ernieyeball says:

    I remember listening to the Christmas Eve Broadcast from Apolo 11.
    Didn’t much care what mythology they were celebrating.
    It blew me away that they were doing it from the Moon!
    Still does!

  2. michael reynolds says:

    A thousand years from now if you’re a student looking to write the single most important fact about the long-ago nation called the United States for your school report, the thing you’ll mention is that men from the United States first stood somewhere other than planet earth. It was without precedent.

  3. stonetools says:

    The message of Earthrise is all we are all in this together, on a small, beautiful, fragile, unique planet in a vast and hostile universe. The message of conservatism is that it’s every man for himself.
    Maybe conservatives need to contemplate Earthrise anew.

  4. john personna says:

    This week’s Robot Olympics was pretty impressive. I wonder where they’ll be in 45 years.

    (the moon?)

  5. ernieyeball says:

    @stonetools: You and Bucky Fuller…

    “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    This was the last Apollo mission I was able to witness from the US. The rest I viewed on German television. They were generally feeds from US networks in English with German subtitles.

  7. anjin-san says:

    I have an Earthrise print that Jim Lovell signed for me, one of my prized possessions.

  8. @michael reynolds:

    We’re also responsible for unmanned missions that have contributed greatly to man’s knowledge of the planetary system he lives in and the greater universe. Heck, a probe that was launched when I was in Middle School recently left the freaking Solar System and is floating out there, perhaps for someone, or some thing, to find it centuries or millennia from now.

    I find that utterly fascinating personally.

  9. @Ron Beasley:

    I was just under five months old when this happened so I was probably asleep when the broadcast of the Genesis reading was aired 😀

  10. @anjin-san:

    Ironically, Lovell’s next (and final) mission would also be one where he ended up orbiting the Moon rather than landing. He was, of course, part of the Apollo 13 crew. I was alive for both, but Apollo 13 is the only one I (sort of) remember.

  11. anjin-san says:

    We’re also responsible for unmanned missions that have contributed greatly to man’s knowledge of the planetary system he lives in and the greater universe.

    NASA has a long, long record of stunning accomplishments. When I was a young child with space ship posters on the wall of my bedroom, the solar system was a mystery. Now we know so much.

    How many countless generations looked at the sky and wondered what they were really seeing? We get to know, and that is a gift beyond price.

    RIP Scott Carpenter 1295-2013.

  12. stonetools says:

    Wonder why it is that libertarians dislike all government programs-except NASA?

  13. john personna says:


    The main reason is probably that it is a think they can be “for” without really doing anything.

    They’ll accept the lower NASA budgets, and just blame the Democrats.

    Of course, as I’ve said, I think “should we fund NASA” isn’t as good a question as “what would be the best thing to fund right now, in 2014?”

    With the right robot technology you don’t need to go to Mars until AFTER your city of the future is built and waiting for you.

  14. @stonetools:

    There you go again.

    Not all libertarians are anarcchists who oppose all government programs.

    Also, you ignore the stunning rise in the past fie years or so of what is essentially a private enterprise based space program. The best example of that i SpaceX which has become hugely successful at unmanned missions delivering cargo to the ISS under contracts with the US Government. Something which, quite conveniently, makes relying on the Russians for that task far less necessary. Now, SpaceX is in the process of creating the means to transport people into orbit as well.

    As for the scientific side of NASA, it would take a longer explanation than this comment would allow to explain why I think that could be justified inside of a philosophy that believes government be as limited as practically possible.

  15. ernieyeball says:

    RIP Scott Carpenter 1295-2013.

    Truly an Ancient Astronaut!

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @anjin-san: You LUCKY dog you….

    I was only 10 years old back then but there was some part of all that that was just otherworldly to me, don’t know why….. 😉

  17. anjin-san says:

    the stunning rise in the past fie years or so of what is essentially a private enterprise based space program.

    This has been a very encouraging development. It is worth noting that the commercial crew program, of which the Space X missions to ISS are a part, is something NASA has acted as an incubator for. Essentially, NASA is helping to grow a private space sector that can handle LEO missions so that they can concentrate on deep space.

    NASA is poised to take space exploration to incredible places. They do need several things though – more funding and better leadership. China is poised to move to the forefront of space exploration if we do not up our game a bit.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It is not floating Doug, it is hurtling through interstellar space.

  19. ernieyeball says:

    @Doug Mataconis: As for the scientific side of NASA, it would take a longer explanation than this comment would allow to explain why I think that could be justified inside of a philosophy that believes government be as limited as practically possible.

    It is Christmas Eve. Some of us heathens have nothing better to do than to track Santa on the NORAD Radar.
    Why don’t U go 4 it!

  20. john personna says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Also, you ignore the stunning rise in the past fie years or so of what is essentially a private enterprise based space program.

    lol, no it is a single-payer space program.

  21. Argon says:

    Some months earlier that year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago faced a myriad of problems. There were riots in Chicago, Washington DC and elsewhere.

    That 10 lunar orbit mission was a much needed respite and chance to remind ourselves of the tiny, beautiful world upon which we all flew through space.

  22. David Ferguson says:


    “The message of conservatism is that it’s every man for himself. Maybe conservatives need to contemplate Earthrise anew.”

    In other words: creation is beautiful, therefore socialism is utopia? What a maroon!

    How about this:

    The message of Progressives is that murder and theft are okay if your motives trend toward redistribution of wealth and centralization of power. Maybe Leftists should contemplate Earthrise anew. I mean, without their remorseless tendency to commit genocide in the name of their ideology. Just saying….

  23. Stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Well, I do find it interesting that libertarians tend to find fault with all kinds of government programs-except for NASA. Now as a liberal, I’m totally OK with NASA- but it sort of goes beyond the minimal, “watchman state” ideal advocated by libertarians. I’m not sure it would fit within the kind of “cost-benefit” analysis approach to government programs advocated by a Milton Friedman type conservative, either. After all, what was the direct economic pay off of the ” moon landing”? ( I’ll agree that were indirect scientific benefits, but you should understand that even those are debatable). Still, I’m glad libertarians have the idea that at least one government program should be supported beyond a kind of “what’s in it for me ” calculus advocated by many conservatives. Now if they could just look at social programs in the same way…

    As to private space enterprises, I applaud them, but they are building on NASA’s efforts . They are an example of private enterprise following the path blazed by government , like the computer industry.

  24. Stonetools says:

    @David Ferguson:

    You miss the point, bro. It’s conservatives that pretend that the Earth’s resources can be exploited without limit for individual gain and who pretend that side effects of such exploitation like global warming don’t exist. As for murder and theft, are you proposing the tired old trope that taxation is theft? Because quite frankly, that’s nonsense, pure and simple. Theft is theft. Taxation is what we agree to pay for living in a civilized society. Don’t like taxation ? Head on over to Somalia, and see what no government and no taxation is really like.

  25. anjin-san says:

    what was the direct economic pay off of the ” moon landing”?

    The Apollo program (the Apollo guidance computer in particular) was a huge driver in the growth and development of the semiconductor industry, which has turned out to be pretty important economically.

    It’s a frequently cited truth that the space program resulted in the accelerated development of integrated circuitry. It was the AGC more than any other single part of this program that drove IC development, an observation Eldon Hall makes in his book Journey to the Moon. In fact, in the early stages, a significant proportion of all ICs manufactured in the world were going to the AGC.

    The Apollo Guidance Computer program was a landmark both in terms of hardware design and software management and laid the foundation for SpaceLab and Shuttle computer systems development. The speed, power, and size requirements for the AGC drove an entire industry that was just taking its first steps along the breathtaking curve of Moore’s Law.


  26. anjin-san says:

    ( I’ll agree that were indirect scientific benefits, but you should understand that even those are debatable)

    The (direct) scientific benefits of having rock & soil samples from another world in hand for study are debatable? A lot of geologists might disagree with you.

  27. Matt says:

    @anjin-san: The computer system itself is fascinating. Quite a few creative “workarounds” in that system.

  28. mm says:

    stoinetools- why is it that liberals have to politicize everything-even a 40+ yeaa photo? And therefore try to control everything with state power?

  29. Lester says:


    Just wrong. You do not know any conservatives. Conservatives are way more generous with their money than libs. Libs think the way to help the poor is to take from some and give to others.

    Conservatives believe that each individual can do a lot more for themselves than the government ever can.

    Capitalism reduces poverty more than all social programs put together. Trillions spent on the Great Society and poverty is higher than ever.

  30. Tyrell says:

    I remember that broadcast very well. It was one of the most inspiring and “transcendent” events in our lives. The Genesis account and views of the earth have not been equaled. The photo of earth rising has been used in countless settings: wall murals, textbooks, and advertisements.

  31. Liberal Capitalist says:

    China’s on the moon.

    NASA releases a GIF of a past accomplishment.

    Thanks for the austerity, conservatives!

  32. stonetools says:

    I guess this isn’t really a great time to launch this debate, but here goes…What’s interesting here is not whether NASA is a worthwhile program. As a liberal, I think the program and agency is quite justifiable under the ” general welfare” clauses of the US Constitution. As a liberal, I think that NASA is a great example of a government program that has provided inestimable benefit, direct and indirect,for Americans and indeed all mankind.
    What’s strange is conservative or libertarian support for it. Here is a nonessential government program that endured a difficult roll-out (rockets repeatedly blowing up on the launchpad, three astronauts burning to death), had repeated missed deadlines, and which experienced many budget overruns. The average Tea Party conservative would surely be calling for the demise of of this “debt-producing government boondoggle” any number of times in its early years.In terms of cost-benefit analysis, a Milton Friedman type would argue that NASA has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to produce some commercially useless moon rocks, some pretty pictures of faraway places, and nothing of direct economic benefit to the average American . As for the indirect benefits of fostering the computer industry, a Milton Friedman type would argue that government shouldn’t be helping one industry in the first place and even if the government had an interest in doing so, that this could be done more efficiently by directly investing the computer industry. (Just let me emphasize once again that I do not agree with this analysis).
    If you look at other founding fathers of libertarianism, such as Hayek or Rothbard, there is even less room for NASA in their theories of government . Yet oddly, libertarians love them some NASA. Taxation is theft -except when its funding NASA. Cost-benefit analysis means abolishing the EPA, the FDA. or the Department of Education,but somehow NASA makes the cut. There should be minimal government-focused on only achieving police and military functions-but somehow NASA fits in there.
    I guess to conservatives, some government programs just become “not government programs” after all but essential services that don’t fall under the usual criticisms that conservatives aim at government programs. Anyway,an interesting example of “cognitive dissonance”.
    Off to open presents. Discuss among yourselves, if you want and to all a Merry Christmas.

  33. ernieyeball says:

    The main reason is probably that it is a think they can be “for” without really doing anything.

    …without their remorseless tendency to commit genocide in the name of their ideology.

    And therefore try to control everything with state power?

    Just wrong.

    Thanks for the austerity…

    …god bless us everyone!

  34. sam says:

    Here’s another image of Earth, from beneath Saturn’s Rings.

  35. george says:


    Conservatives believe that each individual can do a lot more for themselves than the government ever can.

    Why then do they promote such strong police and military? Citizens should be able to protect themselves much better than the government ever can, right?

    A glaring inconsistency with much of the conservative message about individualism is that they think it only applies to financial issues – why in the world wouldn’t it apply as much to physical protection (you know, tough pioneer spirit and all) as it does financial?

    Here again the liberal position is more consistent – they argue that people need gov’t help to protect themselves both financially and physically. Much easier to argue than that only physical protection is needed.

    As for the original topic, the photo itself was world changing.

  36. Michael Clyde says:


    Apollo 11 happened in July of 1969. They didn’t have a Christmas message.

  37. R Shackleford says:

    I suppose I could compose some cartoon diatribe about liberals like stonetools has about Conservatives.

    Hey stonetools, you argue that if Conservatives are against higher taxes, they must want to live in Somalia. Does that mean you, wanting the opposite, want to live in the Soviet Union?

    See how simplistic and stupid that crap line of reasoning is? It is a cheap rhetorical cop-out. You don’t want to have a debate, you want to berate, belittle and characture.

    Frankly, people like you have so poisioned the well, that the day for talk is coming to an end. Please remember when you are standing on that pile of ash wondering what went wrong, that you were the one who brough the lighter fluid to the party.

    As far as the Conservative and Libertarian case for Space Exploration, see Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

  38. ernieyeball says:

    @Michael Clyde: Apollo 11 happened in July of 1969. They didn’t have a Christmas message.

    In your Universe…I was using the Mayan Calendar.

  39. rudderpedals says:

    @R Shackleford: Just one example and that more than 200 years old?

  40. R Shackleford says:


    One example is sufficient to establish precedent.

    So when you can’t find fault with an example, you ask for more. I see.

  41. ernieyeball says:

    A Junky’s Christmas William S. Burroughs. Read by himself.


  42. Dave says:

    @R Shackleford: Not sure Thomas Jefferson would fit in with the Republican party of today (church/state issues, small military and generally anti-war etc).

  43. Stonetools says:

    @R Shackleford:

    So Thomas Jefferson is a libertarian now? Doesn’t really make any sense, dude. The point is that classic libertarianism really doesn’t account for NASA. By all the tenets of libertarian thinkers , government shouldn’t really be funding a NASA- yet despite that, most libertarians love NASA. Now this isn’t a matter of hating on libertarians-it’s just a matter of pointing out an unusual lacuna in libertarian thinking. It ain’t the only one, of course-the the whole “What have the Romans ever done for us” skit is practically a comedic refutation of libertarian thinking.
    As I have said, libertarians get around their support for NASA by thinking of NASA as being not really part of Big Gumint at all- which isn’t logical, but there it is.

  44. rudderpedals says:

    @R Shackleford: An historic event 200 years ago and nothing else is more likely to be a one-off than evidence of a pattern or practice. Your call.

  45. R Shackleford says:


    He would fit there far more easily than within the stategasm that is the modern democrat party.

  46. Dave D says:

    @R Shackleford: Is that because there is no such thing as the democrat party?

  47. Matt says:

    So there’s still people claiming that the whole moon landing and such is a hoax…

  48. Andre Kenji says:

    Comparing the Apollo Project with a group of white men and a Amerindian Woman exploring the North American Plains is cute.

  49. Pinky says:

    A couple of nights ago, Rachel Maddow was talking about this. She was describing what an awful year 1968 was. I turned it on just as she was saying that the US escalated its involvement in Vietnam with the Tet Offensive. She’s supposed to be one of the bright ones on the Left, right?

  50. john personna says:

    @David Ferguson:

    That was pretty funny. Was that your Christmas message? That progressives are all about the genocide?

    I have to say, speaking as a moderate, that posts like yours are more than self-refuting. You put yourself solidly on the kooks list.

  51. john personna says:

    @R Shackleford:

    I think we have strong evidence that conservatives do national greatness theater with NASA.

    GWB never would have fully funded a manned mars mission, but he could kick off the studies and pretend.

    And that’s really the sad thing about modern NASA, they must play these crazy PR games to keep the politicians happy, so that they can get enough money to do the unglamorous (un-greatness) projects that do real science (including climate change).

  52. john personna says:

    Note: a mars mission in 2014, the year that looks to be all about robots, would be really stupid.

    Sure NASA is good, but every year brings different opportunity costs.

  53. anjin-san says:

    @ Pinky

    Are we supposed to get worked up because you misunderstood what Maddow was saying? Have you really nothing better to hand your Christmas stocking on?

    Maddow was a Gardner Fellow at Stanford. She is a Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate from Oxford. She is a very, very bright woman.

    Feel free to dazzle us with a few of your accomplishments.

  54. anjin-san says:

    @ john personna

    Nixon was happy to reap (unearned) political benefits from Apollo 11, but he cancelled Apollo 18 & 19 shortly thereafter. He also wanted to cancel 16 & 17, but Cap Weinberger talked him out of it.

    Kennedy’s vision was to go to the moon, Nixon’s was to bomb peasants in Indochina.

  55. john personna says:


    I think by 1970 we had an over-concentration of effort in aerospace. The combination of cold war, Vietnam, and the space race.

    That the Japanese came in during the next decade to take consumer electronics is probably not coincidental.

    Perhaps that our computer industry took off as the cold war and NASA downsized is also not coincidence. In the mid 70’s Cupertino needed a new gig.

  56. Mikey says:

    @john personna: One amazing thing about NASA is how much they do with the money they get. Look at all the ongoing missions–rovers on Mars, probes to the outer planets, we’re still getting data from the Voyagers for goodness’ sake. And they do this all on about 0.5% of the federal budget.

    Yeah, a manned mission to Mars would be cool and all, but look at what we’re getting already. I’m not sure we’d do better sending people–and certainly we wouldn’t get enough additional value to justify the astronomical additional cost.

  57. george says:

    @john personna:

    Perhaps that our computer industry took off as the cold war and NASA downsized is also not coincidence. In the mid 70′s Cupertino needed a new gig.

    Actually I think it is fairly coincidental, tied more to advances in VLSI than anything else.

  58. Pinky says:


    Feel free to dazzle us with a few of your accomplishments.

    I ain’t claimin’ to be a scholar or nothin’. I just sits on my porch and whittles. I was looking around for a transcript of the show to double-check that I heard her right, but it looks like there’s a delay of two weeks or so.

  59. john personna says:


    While I am a huge fan of basic research by government (and released into the public domain), I am not too much a fan of directed economies. And as I say, I think our economy was directed too much toward aerospace.

    Never forget that personal computing took off with the video game industry, and that Atari was the biggest consumer of VLSI chips in the world, driving wave after wave of … what later became known as Moore’s Law.

    It is popular today, not because it does an admirable job of playing Jet Fighter and Tank, but because its flexible design also allows it to play chess and baseball, as well as Space Invaders, Pac-Man and many of the other arcade games that have been i nvented since the VCS came on the market. More than 200 different game cartridges – the read-only memories (ROMs) containing VCS software – are now on the market, manufactured by about 40 companies, and new games are constantly being developed. An estim ated 120 million cartridges have been sold at prices from $12 to $35, and the demand is such that, in addition to buying more 6502 microcomputers than anyone else in the world, Atari’s purchases of ROMs for its various divisions is greater than that of all other companies in the world combined.

    Today the trend continues, with video game card companies becoming supercomptuer companies.

  60. al-Ameda says:

    That is one of my favorite ‘natural’ pictures ever.
    It really is stunning.

  61. Pinky says:

    @john personna: Good point. Also, the video game revolution didn’t just change things on the hardware end – or for that matter, on the software end either. It taught people how to interact in real time with computers. Games are structured, and they promote structured thinking, working with the choices available. Before video games, there was a small group of people who worked with computers (I’ve heard it referred to as a priesthood). Now there’s hardly anyone who’s afraid of them or cut off from them.

  62. superdestroyer says:

    I find it odd that everyone wants to blame libertarians and conservatives for the decline of space exploration while no one mentions former Senator Proxmire and the left’s strong opposition to space exploration. The far left has always been against NASA and space exploration.

    I suspect that in the future, the post-modernist historians will be hard on space exploration since it was a waste of money that could have been spent on entitlements and social welfare programs. Just look at how many groups and especially liberal Democrats opposed to space exploration http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/09/moondoggle-the-forgotten-opposition-to-the-apollo-program/262254/

  63. the dogooder says:

    @David Ferguson:

    I think that there are conservatives that are a few other colors other than “maroon”.