By Connie and Lynn Baer | Foothiller Footsteps
The year 1968 was a torturous year for the United States: the Vietnam War was raging and dividing the country, the Civil Rights Movement was exploding, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated two months apart. The year had been so tumultuous that Time magazine pre-selected “The Dissenter” as their Man of the Year. And then came the daring flight of Apollo 8.
On Dec. 21, 1968, nearly 50 years ago, Apollo 8 was launched as the first manned spacecraft to reach and orbit the moon and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew consisted of Commander Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders — an Honorary Grossmont graduate of the Class of 1951, who went to Grossmont for two years, yet considers it his alma mater. Today, it’s hard to comprehend how the flight captured humanity’s awe. After Apollo 8’s amazing flight, Time magazine declared the three astronauts “The Men of the Year” of 1968.
On Christmas Eve, the fourth day of their flight, Bill Anders, who was the flight photographer, took one of the most iconic photographs in history: the first photograph of Earth from above the surface of the moon. (Later, NASA selected the best of the “Earthrise” photos, which were then immediately published and celebrated in newspapers and magazines around the world.)
According to a Los Angeles Times article, “The Chaos Kept Coming in 1968,” written by Mitchell Landsborg, “It all looked so peaceful, from the moon. Anders snapped a black-and-white photo, then hollered to Jim Lovell, ‘You got a color film, Jim? Hand me a roll of color, quick, would you? … Hurry!’
“The photograph that Anders took became one of the most celebrated ever. It showed the Earth in all its living glory. It invited people to step away from one of the most contentious years anyone could remember and gain some perspective. Many talked about how it seemed to show the beauty and fragility of their one-and-only world, spinning through a dark and indifferent universe.”
The picture was credited with helping to launch the environmental movement. “Earthrise” became a symbol of the movement and led to the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
According to the 2018 book “Rocket Men,” written by Robert Kurson, “In case anyone had missed it, President Johnson sent a copy of ‘Earthrise’ to every world leader.”
It was a flight of firsts: the first American manned flight to leave Earth’s orbit; the first flight to travel that far, a total of 240,000 miles; and the first flight to orbit the moon, after capture by the gravity of another heavenly body. These accomplishments awoke mankind to its own infinite potential.
Hours after the “Earthrise” photo was taken, the three astronauts went on live television from their space capsule. Broadcast around the world, their appearance had an estimated audience of 1 billion people — at that point, the largest audience for any event in history. Anders said the astronauts had a message for the world. He paused, and began to read from a King James Bible: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth.”
He handed the Bible to Lovell, who read the next section of Genesis.
Mission Commander Frank Borman concluded the cosmic broadcast with these words: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”
After their historic flight, in January 1969, Anders visited Grossmont to donate to the school priceless framed flight memorabilia: a mission patch with the astronauts’ names and an image of the flight’s path circling from Earth to the moon and back, which creates an “8,” reflecting the flight number; a small California flag taken on board the flight; and a document with the three astronauts’ signatures and the words “Carried on Board Apollo 8, First Lunar Flight, 21-27 December, 1968.”
On the occasion of the Grossmont High School Museum’s grand opening in October 2008, Anders donated a copy of the “Earthrise” photo with an inscription, which is displayed above the Apollo 8 flight memorabilia.
Recently, Anders shared with us this reflection on his historic experiences in space: “The message of my iconic ‘Earthrise’ picture is sinking in more and more. In short, it’s ironic that Apollo 8 came to explore the moon, but what we really discovered was the earth —small, beautiful, fragile, physically and astronomically insignificant, yet humankind’s home that we need to take better care of.”
Anders and his iconic photo also recently received some stellar recognition. The Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union has today officially approved the naming of two craters on the moon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission. The names are Anders’ Earthrise and 8 Homeward. The newly named craters are visible in the foreground of the iconic “Earthrise” color photograph.
For more information about the Apollo 8 flight, we recommend “Rocket Men,” written in 2018, by Robert Kurson. To learn more and to see first-hand our collection of NASA memorabilia belonging to our three astronauts, please visit the museum from noon–3:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 or by appointment on other Wednesdays. To explore our 98 years of Foothiller history, visit foothillermuseum.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-668-6140.
—Connie and Lynn Baer write on behalf of the Grossmont High School Museum.