Apollo 8: Humanity’s First Earthrise—and First Christmas—from the Moon

“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
– William Anders, Apollo 8 Commander

Photo of the Earth beyond the Moon (AS08-14-2383) captured by Apollo 8 on Dec. 24, 1968.

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 CSM entered orbit around the Moon and, after completing 4 full orbits, provided the three astronauts on board with an amazing sight: a blue Earth rising* beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. Commander Frank Borman spotted the scene first and, after taking a 70mm black-and-white photograph, was able to rotate the Command Module so Earth remained in view through the small windows while CM pilot Jim Lovell captured this famous image on color film. It was the first time any humans saw the Earth from the vicinity of the Moon…and it was also the first Christmas that 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.

The photo above was captured on Kodak SO-368 color film with a Hasselblad 70mm camera using a 250mm telephoto lens.

To mark both the holiday and historic event they sent Christmas greetings and images back home later that day via radio broadcast, including a reading from the Book of Genesis. Borman closed his 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 live broadcast or listened on the radio. You can hear the original broadcast below:

Experience the historic Earthrise photo op along with the Apollo 8 astronauts in a video released by NASA in 2013 here.

You can find the full transcript of the Apollo 8 mission communication here (with the Earthrise photo op event on pages 113-114.)

Launched on Dec. 21, 1968, Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27, 1968 at 15:51:42 UT (10:51:42 a.m. EST) approximately 1,000 miles SSW of Hawaii. Learn more about Apollo 8 here.

Image credit: NASA via the Project Apollo Archive on Flickr.

*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.

Also for more detailed information about the “validity” of this image, check out this in-depth article on OneBigMonkey here.


  1. Bill Andres took the Photo of the Earth. Otha H Vaughan,NASA MSFC Retired.


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