Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World

Space exploration is responsible for a wide array of advances very beneficial to life here on terra firma: everything from memory foam and cordless vacuum cleaners to artificial limbs and a heart pump. But perhaps one of its greatest legacies is the bringing together of people to marvel at the bravery of an extraordinary group of pioneers to venture into the dark reaches of space, entirely dependent on the ciphering of fellow human beings to get there and back. Apollo 8 was one such mission, coming at the end of one of the most tumultuous years in our nation’s history – the highest death toll to date in Vietnam in February, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in April, Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June, violent clashes between police and protesters at the Democratic Convention in August. Deep social and political divisions seemed insurmountable… back to the future, anyone? But when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders shot into space, scheduled to perform the first-ever orbits around the moon on December 24, people came together around radios and television sets to follow their journey. It was, however, a photo taken by Anders that truly gave the country pause. The image, which would come to be known as Earthrise, captured our beautiful blue-green jewel sparkling in sunlight against the black velvet of space and reminded folks that they all share the same special home. An effusive, action verb-packed text wouldn’t have been inappropriate for such an exciting milestone, but Gladstone’s understated writing echoes the hushed reverence with which many people must have watched the mission unfold. Lundy’s artwork, like Gladstone’s narrative, is soft and quiet, with a primarily cream and blue palette. As Apollo 8 most surely did, the book encourages reflection on what we can achieve when we are united, and how good that feels. We really could use something like Apollo 8 now, but in the absence of such, this look back on a much-needed high in a year of tragic lows offers a positive respite from the disheartening strife that currently threatens to rip us apart. Use this as a jumping-off point for a discussion of other moments when our country has come together, and short of an Apollo 8-like event, what we can do on a local level to foster a sense of solidarity.

Earthrise, as photographed by Bill Anders in 1968.

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