Earthrise, the Photo Which Soothed a Broken Nation

Earthrise, the Photo Which Soothed a Broken Nation

Earthrise, the Photo Which Soothed a Broken Nation

It’s hard to believe, but Christmas Eve marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest photos ever taken: Earthrise. But not only was the image one of stunning beauty, it also proved to be a salve of sorts for a year that saw enormous unrest in the nation. Indeed, it seemed as if we were falling apart.

Then Earthrise came along, thanks to the astronauts of Apollo 8.

Those of us who are Baby Boomers have 1968 seared into our memories. I had just become a teenager, but I still remember the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Race riots and anti-war protests broke out in cities and on college campuses. Violence exploded in Chicago between anti-war protestors and police at the Democratic National Convention. Growing up near Chicago, I watched it live on local TV channels. Even as a kid, I saw the nation as a very frightening place.

But then Apollo 8 took off to orbit the moon — the first mission to ever orbit another world — when its astronauts took the iconic photo and read from the Bible on a video feed back to earth. It seemed to be a bandage over the scab that America seemed to keep reopening during 1968.

earthrise apollo 8 astronauts

Apollo 8 astronauts: Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, Frank Borman.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons; public domain.

However, Earthrise almost didn’t happen. Remember there were no iPhones or digital cameras fifty years ago. And when the three astronauts — Commander Frank Borman and crew members James Lovell and William Anders — decided to snap the photo, they were left searching for color film. You can hear them scrambling for the right shot in this video released five years ago.

Then, on Christmas Eve, NASA tasked the astronauts with sending a spoken message, too. As Borman said, 40 years later:

“We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice. And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”

So Borman, Lovell, and Anders took turns reading from the Book of Genesis in the Bible, since, as Lovell said:

“The first ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world’s religions, not just the Christian religion. There are more people in other religions than the Christian religion around the world, and so this would be appropriate to that and so that’s how it came to pass.”

Here’s what people on earth saw:

But, like today, there would be those angry at the broadcast. The atheist gadfly, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, quickly filed a lawsuit against NASA charging First Amendment violations.

However, the lawsuit went nowhere. A district court in Texas dismissed it, stating that “the plaintiffs have neither been forced to do anything nor prohibited from doing anything.” Moreover, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

O’Hair died a brutal death in 1995 at the hands of an extortionist, who dismembered and dumped her body at a remote ranch in Texas. Her legacy is symbolic of the 1960’s: a time of animosity, division, and the desire to upend tradition.

However, Apollo 8’s Earthrise photo and the Christmas Eve reading from Genesis still remain a half-century later. And while 1968 was a year of horribles, it ended with seeing the beauty of the earth and hearing sacred words which have been truth for billions for thousands of years.

 

Featured image: cropped from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

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