How Apollo 8 captured one of the most famous photos in history

Larry Getlen

New York Post

16th May 2017

As astronaut Frank Borman trained for the Apollo 9 mission in August 1968, he and crew members Jim Lovell and Bill Anders had seven months to prepare to orbit the Earth. Then their plans changed. According to Time magazine journalist Jeffrey Kruger’s new book, (Henry Holt and Company) NASA informed Borman they wanted to switch his crew from Apollo 9 to Apollo 8, altering the mission in two critical ways.

For one, they would now have only 16 weeks to prepare. And instead of orbiting the Earth, they would now become the first human beings to travel to, then orbit, the moon. Borman’s wife, Susan, was well aware of the danger, and wanted a straight take.

She asked Chris Kraft, NASA’s director of flight operations, to level with her. “Chris,” she said, “I really want to know what you think their chances are of coming home. ” “You really mean that, don’t you?” he asked.

She said yes. “‘Okay,’ he said directly. ‘How’s ? ’” While the Mercury and Gemini missions flew virtually from — Gemini saw some failures, but no loss of life — the Apollo missions had not been so fortunate.

On Jan. 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed in an electrical fire during a test of the Apollo spacecraft. Caused by a poorly insulated electrical wire, the tragedy brought the Apollo program to a halt, as the craft was redesigned, with everything aboard made fireproof.

Borman, Lovell, and Anders lifted off in a Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever used on a space mission, on Dec. 21, 1968. Despite their training and experience — Borman and Lovell had flown on Gemini 7 — none of them had experience with this level of force.

Mission regulations required the commander, Borman, to keep his hand on an “abort” handle throughout in the event that something went wrong. He complied, despite strong misgivings. “His fear,” Kluger writes, “was that the powerful vibrations of the rocket could cause him to turn the handle by accident, ending an intended lunar mission just a few miles above the Atlantic.

” But the shaking subsided after several minutes, and the men were safely underway. NASA NASA View Slideshow America was transfixed by the excursion. NASA had a direct line to the ship, hearing every word the astronauts said, and much of this feed was broadcast live across the world.

Walter Cronkite broadcast many of the mission’s key moments. Set up three miles from the launch site, he declared, as soon as the ship left Earth, “This building is shaking under us! Our camera platform is shaking. But what a beautiful sight.

” Almost three hours into the flight, a planned acceleration, from 17, 500 miles per hour to just under 25, 000 m. p. h.

took them out of our planet’s orbit, making them the first people in human history to not be subject to Earth’s gravity. Sometime after, they enjoyed another first, as Borman caught a glimpse of Earth from one of the spacecraft’s windows. Astronauts aboard earlier missions had seen portions of Earth from space, but never from enough distance to have the entire planet in view.

But now, rocketing toward the moon, the astronauts saw the Earth as a globe, their view of Africa as clear as the sight of Florida. Borman said, “What a view!” What he said he thought was: This must be what God sees. Soon after, they faced a potentially significant problem.

All three men had felt a bit queasy once they hit space, but Borman’s nausea didn’t subside, leading to fear that he had caught a virus. If so, that meant the other crew members, given the close quarters, were almost certain to catch it as well, and the mission would need to be aborted. At first, Borman ordered his crewmates to keep silent.

But when he was still sick after 12 hours, they informed NASA, where the cause of his illness was debated. NASA’s flight surgeon, Dr. Charles Berry recommended cancelling the mission.

Borman, hearing the news, smirked, calling it “pure, unadulterated horses — — t. ” He laughed off the recommendation, saying he was fine, “or at least I’m feeling better. ” The first part was a lie, but the second part wasn’t.

Luckily, Borman’s illness turned out to be a bout of motion sickness, and he recovered soon after. In the midst of concerns and revelations, there were moments of levity. Given that communications between the Apollo 8 and Mission Control were largely public, NASA’s public affairs office was unhappy with some of the crude discussion — in particular, that the astronauts used the word “balls” as lingo for “zero,” leading to jargony sentences such as, “Star difference angle was four balls.

” “A female reporter at a NASA press conference raised her hand and said, ‘I don’t understand about the balls,’ ” Kluger writes. “All of the male reporters laughed until they cried. ” A few slips aside, the astronauts agreed to change “balls” back to “zero.

” There were other issues — including questions about the possibility that their urine, which they would vent out of a port on the ship’s side, might alter the flight’s trajectory — but they were relatively minor, and paled in comparison to the series of firsts the astronauts raked up for humanity. NASA NASA NASA NASA NASA View Slideshow On Dec. 23, 1968, during a scheduled broadcast, TV viewers around the world saw our planet from afar for the first time.

Anders held the camera, and Lovell narrated, pointing out Baja California, Cape Horn, and the North Pole, all in his sights simultaneously. “What I keep imagining,” Lovell told the world, “is if I am some lonely traveler from another planet, what would I think about the Earth from this altitude — whether I would think it would be inhabited or not . .

. I was just kind of curious if I would land on the blue part [water] or the brown part [land] of the Earth. ” The next day, the three men became the first to enter lunar orbit, requiring a communications blackout that left them “disconnected from the rest of humanity in a way that no one ever had been before.

” Then, shortly after, Lovell became “the first human being in history ever to see the far side of the moon. ” The sight left the three distinguished astronauts as giddy as schoolboys. “‘Is it below us?’ Anders asked excitedly, pressing close to his window.

“‘Yes, and it’s — ’ Lovell began. “‘Oh my God!’ Anders exclaimed . .

. ‘Look at that!’ he said. ‘I see two — ’ He waved his hands to fill in the word ‘craters,’ which, in his excitement, was eluding him.

‘Look at that!’ he repeated. ‘Fan … fantastic. ’” Anders took pictures of the Earth and the moon throughout the trip.

At one point, they realized they had, for the first time, a straight ahead view of Earth. They were mesmerized by the sight. “‘Oh, my God!’ Borman suddenly said.

‘Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty! ’” Stunned silent, Anders “shook himself from his reverie first,” and rushed to remove the black and white film from his camera to replace it with color. The three men scrambled, with Anders screaming, “Quick! Hurry!” The process took long enough that the view disappeared from their window, before Borman noticed they could see it from another window.

“Hey, I got it right here!” he screamed, and Anders ran to take several shots. One, which showed the moon’s surface up close and the Earth from a distance, came to be known as “Earthrise,” and became one of history’s most famous photographs. In the years to follow, Earthrise would be “reproduced hundreds of millions of times on postage stamps, wall posters, coffee mugs, and more.

Both Time and Life magazines ranked it among the hundred most influential photographs in history, and the image would be widely credited with animating the environmental movement. ” The Apollo 8 landed safely back on Earth on December 27. There were celebrations in the mission’s immediate aftermath, including a ticker tape parade in New York and a salute before both houses of Congress.

But despite the collective merriment, NASA’s mission continued. The Houston Chronicle’s James Schefter noted that for all the joy at their significant milestone, the organization’s vision remained focused on the universe at large. After describing scenes of drunken frivolity at various parties, Schefter wrote, “Over in Mission Control, a team of flight directors missed it all.

Reporting for duty at 3:30 p. m. [on the same day as splashdown] they went into a simulation for Apollo 9.

And the cycle began anew. ”.


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