Behind the Lens: Earthrise

PHOTOGRAPHY

Behind the Lens


A flagship for the modern environmental movement

The first in a series of articles covering the fame and legacies of humanity's most coveted and influential photographs.

 The famous photograph taken by the Apollo 8 Crew - Earthrise,  from nasa.gov

The famous photograph taken by the Apollo 8 Crew - Earthrise, from nasa.gov

1968 might not stick out to many as a year of importance but in this unassuming run of 365 days, for once, history was made not by those living on Earth but by the ones who ventured outside. In 1968, the planet was engulfed in conflict (the Vietnam War), riots (the Assassination of Martin Luther King) and crackdowns (the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia). There was however, one glimmer of hope, which came in the form of pictures from the Apollo Moon Missions. As the Christmas Eve of 1968 rolled around, the world’s problems seemed to melt away as the majestic beauty of the photo Earthrise spread across television sets and newspaper presses.

For the Apollo 8 crew, their primary objective was to document the lunar surface and test equipment in an effort to prepare for man’s first landing on the moon a year later. As such, the three crew members onboard were wholly unprepared when they found themselves face to face with a view of the Earth rising from the lunar surface peeking in through a small window on their Apollo shuttle.

On sight, the astronauts scrambled for their cameras: a set of two 70mm Hasselblad still cameras and the colour film they brought along for the mission. The photo we now know as ‘Earthrise’ was captured in this precise moment - the first colour photo of the Earth, and if one thinks about it, a photograph that literally contains everyone who has ever lived or died sans those three privileged crew members. The result of this scramble was the creation of Earthrise - the famous 'picture of Earth from the moon' that we all know, a photograph that is undoubtedly one of humanity's most influential photos.

The photo is named for how it appeared to the astronauts (the Apollo 8 crew), an unexpected Earth rises from the lunar - a wholly new perspective of the home planet. This beauty caught many people off guard when the first negatives were released to the public. As such, the prominence of Earthrise is derived not only from the beauty being depicted but also how this is underscored by tenable fragility, an oasis in the enveloping darkness of space. 

Since then, many similar photos depicting the Earth in space have been taken by the crews of various Apollo programs, namely the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 missions.

Earthrise has been roundly described as the ’most influential environmental photograph ever taken’ occupying a place alongside other miles of the environmental movement like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. It is also a perennial favourite to be used as Earth Day pictures.

Of all the spheres of human exploration and for all the things that fuel our love for travel, venturing into space is undoubtedly the most illustrious frontier. 

Yet, this impetus for visiting space was not borne out of a lust for exploration but commissioned for a military imperative. This sad truth cannot be more clearly seen than through Congress’ reaction to the Russians conceding the space race. As soon as that happened, any manned mission planned by NASA past lower earth orbit precipitously ceased. Additionally, the simple act of the CIA hinting that the Russians could be starting their own lunar mission resulted in the mission profile of Apollo 8 being greatly enhanced from a simple testing of equipment in lower earth orbit to a full lunar orbit mission. 

Currently, NASA has no capabilities of sending its astronauts into space and the only way to do so now is by paying the Russian government millions of dollars to hitch a ride on one of Russia’s Soyuz rockets. It is disconcerting to see the US’ space program fall so far behind. 

These missions have the power to unite, even for a minute or two, humanity’s shared aspirations and conceivably, the power of unity in space can begin to address some of the world’s seemingly unsolvable problems. Perhaps a realignment of our priorities is in order.

If you’d like to watch a good summary of the mission taken by NASA, take a look here

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