Putting Earthrise in Context
On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida. The three-man crew—Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and James Lovell—were part of an elite group of astronauts NASA had assembled to help fulfill John F. Kennedy’s goal to land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Their mission was to orbit the moon, testing the viability of a future moon landing. They were the first men to leave Earth’s orbit behind, venturing 240,000 miles farther than anyone before them. During their lunar orbit, the crew emerged from the dark side of the moon to see the Earth rising before them. They quickly scrambled to capture the image. This was the first color photograph taken of the Earth from the moon and became known as Earthrise.
The Earthrise photograph had an everlasting impact on the astronauts and humanity, offering a powerful perspective that transcended national, political, and religious boundaries. It helped humanity to see our Earth as one ecosystem, kickstarting the environmental movement, and has become one of the most iconic and widely reproduced and distributed images in history.
Offering an opportunity to remember this shift in perspective, the film Earthrise compels us to reflect on Earth as a shared home at this unprecedented time in history and to consider how we might build on the legacy of the Earthrise photograph, 50 years later.
For an in-depth history of the Earthrise photograph, including biographies of the Apollo 8 astronauts, visit the full Earthrise curriculum/discussion guide.