Apollo 8, Earthrise and the Overview Effect

On December 24th, 1968, Bill Anders, on board Apollo 8, captured a photo that would change the world. Four days earlier, on December 21st, 1968, Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell Jr, who would later serve as commander on Apollo 13, blasted off from earth propelled by 7.2 million pounds of thrust.

The ultimate goal of the Apollo missions was to put a man on the moon. With that in mind, each mission up until Apollo 11 tackled different facets of the journey. Apollo 8's objective was to send men the moon, orbit it and return. What came out of the mission would turn out to be far more profound.

It was a journey fraught with peril. It was a last minute decision to send Apollo 8 to the moon, born out of the belief that the Soviets were about to get their first. There was no backup engine and no plan B for the men of Apollo 8. Death was a legitimate possibility on this mission, perhaps more than on any other.

Apollo 8 took 4 days to reach it's destination. Upon their arrival, the spacecraft flew around the far side of the moon, into darkness for 45 minutes of radio silence. They would orbit ten times over the next twenty hours.

On one of these orbits, upon their re-emergence into light, Anders snapped the now legendary photo, known as Earthrise. Amazingly, the sole photographic objective of the mission was to capture a high resolution photo of the Moon's surface. Nasa had never given much thought to turning the lens back at ourselves. Like many great photos, capturing this moment was partially a matter of luck.

Earthrise, by Bill Anders

The significance of what they were seeing certainly wasn't lost on the astronauts of Apollo 8, just as it isn't lost on most astronauts who visit space. It's known as the overview effect, and it describes the deep, cognitive shift that happens as a result of seeing our planet from an outside perspective. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell once said, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it...” The video below from The Planetary Collective delves into the phenomenon further.

From the moon, and beyond, the earth is just a tiny blue sphere, floating alone in a vast, foreboding void. The astronauts of Apollo 8 saw this in person and had their perspectives shattered. With the publishing of Earthrise, human beings around the world were able to share in some small way that very same realization and see just how fragile our planet truly is.

Earthrise changed the world upon its publishing. Today, access to space for civilians is becoming more and more of a possibility. Someday, thanks to companies like World View, every day people may be able to experience space and the overview effect firsthand.

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