On This Day: Apollo 8 Takes ‘Our Planet’s Most Famous Photo’ in 1968

by Samantha Whidden

On this day in American history, the crew of Apollo 8 spacecraft takes Planet Earth’s most famous photograph in 1968.

According to NASA, Apollo 8 was the first crewed spacecraft to successfully orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The crew, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, were notably the first to witness and photograph an Earthrise. American historian Michael Beschloss took to his Twitter account on Wednesday (December 22nd) to share the anniversary of the famous Apollo 8 Earth photograph. 

The historian also revealed in a second post that Under Nixon, the December 1968 Apollo 8 photograph of Earth became background material in Oval Office for visits with H. R. Haldeman, Dwight  Chapin, and John Ehrlichman. It also became the bumper for CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Following the snapshot of the Earth, the Apollo 8 crew came the first humans to orbit another world. NASA revealed as their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts onboard shared images of the moon and Earth. They also took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone “on the good Earth.”

NASA also stated that the Apollo 8 crew rocketed into orbit on December 21st, and after circling the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, mission control waiting for Apollo 8’s engine burn to leave lunar orbit had worked. They soon got confirmation when Lovell radioed, “Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus.”

Apollo 8 Crew Recalls the Mission During the 40th Anniversary 

During the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission in 2008, Frank Borman recalled the experience. “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.”

Lovell also stated also spoke about saying the first ten verses of Genesis. “The first ten verses of Genesis are 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.

Speaking about the Earthrise image, Lovell previously stated, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring. And it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” 

NASA also stated that Earth is about five degrees left of the horizon in the photo. The unnamed surface features on the left are near the eastern limb of the Moon as viewed from Earth. “The lunar horizon is approximately 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. Height of the photographed area at the lunar horizon is about 175 kilometers.”