“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
– Bill Anders, Apollo 8
On Christmas Eve 46 years ago, December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts entered orbit around the Moon and came upon an amazing sight: a blue Earth “rising*” beyond the tan-grey desolation of the lunar surface. Commander Frank Borman spotted the scene first was able to rotate the Command Module so Earth remained in view through the small windows, while CM pilot Jim Lovell snapped this photograph onto a roll of color film that Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders was able to quickly locate for him. It was the first time humans saw the Earth from the Moon in person, and it was also the first Christmas astronauts spent in space.
“The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth,” Jim Lovell said.
To mark the occasion, they sent Christmas greetings and images back home and broadcast a reading from the Book of Genesis. Borman closed the message with the words “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
It is estimated that a billion people watched the historic live broadcast or listened on the radio. You can hear the original broadcast below:
Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968 at 15:51:42 UT (10:51:42 a.m. EST) appx. 1,000 miles SSW of Hawaii. Learn more about Apollo 8 here.
Image credit: NASA
*Because the Moon always keeps the same face toward Earth, Earth doesn’t really “rise” in the sky there like the Moon and Sun do from here. The rising effect was created by the orbiting motion of the Command Module itself.