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The Photograph That Changed How We See the World

Nov 15, 2018 | 697 videos
Video by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

When NASA launched Apollo 8 on December 21, 1968, the manned spaceflight mission had one objective: “To go around the moon and get back alive,” remembers the astronaut Bill Anders in a new short documentary, Earthrise, directed by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. “There was essentially zero interest in images of the Earth from space. It was just one more thing to divert the crew from actually completing the mission.”


Carl Sagan’s journey this was not.


Everything changed, however, when the astronauts first glimpsed the blue planet from space. “It looked like the only thing in the entire universe,” Frank Borman, another astronaut on the crew, says in the film. “All this inky black void, and Earth was there with this beautiful blue hue to it—the blue marble.”


Later in the mission, as the spacecraft settled into lunar orbit, Earth appeared to rise over the moon’s stark, colorless horizon. Anders snapped a 70 mm photograph, which was later called Earthrise.


The first color photograph of Earth “captured a perspective of our planet never seen before and led to a collective shift in consciousness—one that saw the Earth as part of an interconnected whole,” Vaughan-Lee told The Atlantic. “I wanted to know the story behind the photograph … to know what it was like for the first human beings to see and experience Earth from space. The photograph holds the astronauts’ experience within it.”


The documentary features interviews with Anders, Borman, and Jim Lovell—now in their late 80s and early 90s—in which the Apollo 8 astronauts recall the sheer awe they experienced after leaving Earth for the first time. Their voices are heard over images and footage rarely before seen.


“[The astronauts] were incredibly honest and open with me,” said Vaughan-Lee. “They remembered everything so clearly, and the way they described the events and their experience made you feel as if you were on the journey with them. You could feel in their words the profound impact it had had on their lives, and how this experience had made a deep imprint on not just their memories, but their souls.”


This film originally appeared in the New York Times Op-Docs series.

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of short films curated by The Atlantic