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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.

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Book Review: “Earthrise” by Apollo 14 Astronaut Ed Mitchell

Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut by Edgar Mitchell and Ellen Mahoney

Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut by Edgar Mitchell and Ellen Mahoney

To date only 12 humans have ever set foot on the surface of the Moon. Ed Mitchell is one of them… and this is the story of how he got there and what it was like when he did. (Now that’s a claim not many authors can make!)

Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut tells the story of Apollo 14 Lunar Module pilot Edgar D. Mitchell, in his own words, from his upbringing on a family ranch in New Mexico to his days as a Navy pilot and eventually as an astronaut in the Apollo program, culminating in his historic voyage to the Moon with Alan Shepard and Stu Roosa in February 1971.

“Edgar Mitchell obtained a cosmic perspective on life that so few of us will ever achieve.”
— Neil DeGrasse Tyson

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Experience Earthrise with Apollo 8

On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit making astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell the first humans in history to travel around the Moon and see first-hand its hidden far side. During their 10-orbit voyage they captured one of the most well-known and iconic images of the Space Age: the blue-and-white sphere of Earth floating in the blackness of space beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. It was the first time a person had ever taken such a magnificent photo of the two worlds, and thanks to the trove of data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter we can now recreate the exact moments that the historic event took place, down to the position of the Apollo 8 spacecraft and the conversation between the three men aboard.

The video above, released today by NASA, lets us all experience what it was like to catch a glimpse of the Earth from within Apollo 8 45 years ago. Check it out — preferably in full-screen, high-definition. It’s worth it.

“The vast loneliness up here at the Moon is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.”

— Jim Lovell, live Apollo 8 telecast, Dec. 24, 1968

Want to see more photos from Apollo 8? Visit the Project Apollo Image Archive here.

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