How One Apollo 8 Photo Changed the World

December 21, 2017, 12:00 PM UTC
Bill Anders captured the image that changed the world on Dec. 24, 1968. The living, blue planet rising over the desolate moon's surface.

Forty-nine years ago, Apollo 8 succeeded as the first manned mission to the moon. On Dec. 21, 1968, three astronauts blasted off from Florida and left the Earth’s orbit. Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr., and Bill Anders were aboard the historic spacecraft that orbited the moon.

Anders was mission photographer, and he captured the image on Christmas Eve that changed the world. The image, called “Earthrise,” is arguably the most important legacy of the Apollo space program, showing the Earth rising over the moon’s horizon. It showed just how fragile and isolated the earth was as the globe was reduced to an ornament sized sphere, hanging half in shadow and suspending in the middle of nothing at all. The living, blue planet rose over a dead lunar horizon.

Humans saw their planet for the first time as a whole world. Not as continents or oceans, but an entire entity. Our entire world was shown as a small, blue, finite globe in the distance with billions and billions of creatures depending on it for life. It’s the image that is credited with starting the environmental movement and has been used as a hopeful symbol of global unity.

Check out the gallery above to see the Apollo 8 mission in photos.