On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to witness the Earth rising above the moon's barren surface. Now we can relive the astronauts' experience, thanks to data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
[ music ] On December 24th 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon, and the first to witness the magnificent sight called "Earthrise." Now, we can see this historic event exactly as the astronauts saw it, thanks to new data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. LRO's superb global lunar maps, combined with the astronauts' own photographs, reveal where Apollo 8 was over the Moon, and even its precise orientation in space, when the astronauts first saw the Earth rising above the Moon's barren horizon.
[ music ] It happened a few minutes after 10:30 am Houston time, as Apollo 8 was coming around from the far side of the Moon for the fourth time. Mission Commander Frank Borman was in the left-hand seat, preparing to turn the spacecraft to a new orientation according to the flight plan. Navigator Jim Lovell was in the spacecraft's lower equipment bay, about to make sightings on lunar landmarks with the onboard sextant, and Bill Anders was in the right-hand seat, observing the Moon through his side window, and taking pictures with a Hasselblad still camera, fitted with a 250-mm telephoto lens.
Meanwhile, a second Hasselblad with an 80-mm lens was mounted in Borman's front-facing window, the so-called rendezvous window, photographing the Moon on an automatic timer: a new picture every twenty seconds. These photographs, matched with LRO's high-resolution terrain maps, show that Borman was still turning Apollo 8 when the Earth appeared. It was only because of the timing of this rotation that the Earthrise, which had happened on Apollo 8's three previous orbits, but was unseen by the astronauts, now came into view in Bill Anders's side window.
Here's what it looked like, as recreated from LRO data by Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio. You'll hear the astronauts' voices as captured by Apollo 8's onboard tape recorder, beginning with Frank Borman announcing the start of the roll maneuver, and you'll see the rising Earth move from one window to another as Apollo 8 turns.
Borman: All right, we're gonna roll. Ready… Set…
Anders: The impact crater with uh - at uh - just prior to the subsolar point on the south side, in the floor of it, uh, [unintelligible], there is one dark hole. But I couldn't get a quick enough look at it to see if it might be anything volcanic.
Anders: Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There's the Earth comin' up. Wow, is that pretty!
Borman: Hey don't take that, it's not scheduled.
Anders: You got a color film, Jim? Hand me a roll of color, quick, would you?
Lovell: Oh man, that's great.
Lovell: Where is it?
Lovell: Down here?
Anders: Just grab me a color. A color exterior. Hurry up. Got one?
Lovell: Yeah, I'm looking' for one. C 368.
Anders: Anything. Quick.
Anders: Well, I think we missed it.
Lovell: Hey, I got it right here [in the hatch window].
Anders: Let me get it out this one, it's a lot clearer.
Lovell: Bill, I got it framed, it's very clear right here!
Lovell: Got it?
Lovell: Take several, take several of 'em! Here, give it to me!
Anders: Wait a minute, just let me get the right setting here now, just calm down.
Lovell: Take -
Anders: Calm down, Lovell!
Lovell: Well, I got it right - aw, that's a beautiful shot…Two-fifty at f/11.
Lovell: Now vary-vary the exposure a little bit.
Anders: I did, I took two of 'em here.
Lovell: You sure you got it now?
Anders: Yeah, we'll get - well, it'll come up again, I think.
[ music ] For the astronauts, seeing the Earthrise was an unexpected and electrifying experience, and one of the three photographs taken by Bill Anders became an iconic image of the 20th century.
In 2018, the International Astronomical Union commemorated the event by naming a 25 mile diameter crater "Anders' Earthrise." A smaller crater was given the name, "Eight Homeward." Both craters are visible in the iconic Earthrise photograph.
I'm Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man on the Moon."
[ music ][Satellite passing by: Beeping rhythmically]