The First Earthrise

2 minute read

Geocentrism died on August 23, 1966. Centuries had passed since human beings first dispensed with the old notion that the Earth was the hub around which the universe turned. But what we know rationally and embrace intuitively are often two different things. No matter where we stood on our home planet, after all, no matter how high we climbed into — or even above — the atmosphere, Earth’s horizon still defined the limits of our vision. We could see how out-there looked from down-here, but what we never saw was the reverse. And then, 45 years ago this month, we all at once could.

In that otherwise unremarkable summer, NASA’s Lunar Orbiter 1 arrived at the moon. As it rounded the far side on one of its early orbits, it snapped this head-turning image of the Earth — carved to a mere crescent like our own little moon — rising over the dominating arc of the lunar horizon. Our species had seen the sun rise and the moon rise, but we had never seen an Earthrise. It was both an illuminating and a humbling experience — one, some scientists hoped, that would help us appreciate the fragility of our little soap bubble world. Two generations on, that’s a hope worth recalling.

Jeffrey Kluger is a senior editor for TIME and oversees science and technology reporting. He has written or co-written more than 35 cover stories for the magazine and regularly contributes articles and commentary on science and health stories. His notable cover stories include reports on global warming, the science of appetite, the Apollo 11 anniversary, and the roots of human morality.

The Lunar Orbiter I took this first ever photo of the Earth from the vicinity of the moon on August 23, 1966. In honor of its 45th anniversary, TIME looks back at iconic photographs of the Earth in orbit. NASA
The space shuttle Endeavour docks at the International Space Station during its last mission, May 28, 2011. NASA
The space shuttle Endeavour docks at the International Space Station during its final sortie on May 23, 2011. NASA—ESA/Getty Images
Astronaut Robert L. Curbeam Jr., left, and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang participate in an extravehicular activity (space walk) as construction continues on the International Space Station on December 12, 2006. New Zealand and Cook Strait in the Pacific Ocean is visible in the background. NASA
Astronaut Joseph R. Tanner is backed by Earth's horizon during a space walk in order to service the Hubble Space Telescope, February 16, 1997. NASA
Astronaut Story Musgrave, anchored on the Remote Manipulator System arm, prepares to install a protective covering on the magnetometers while orbiting above Earth, December 8, 1993. NASA
A view from the space shuttle Columbia's starboard flight deck of NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility with Earth in the background, January 20, 1990. NASA
Mission specialist Bruce McCandless II uses a nitrogen jet propelled backpack, known as the Manned Manuevering Unit, to float away from the Space Shuttle Challenger, February 12, 1984. NASA—Reuters
The first ever image by a spacecraft, NASA's Voyager 1, of the Earth and Moon was taken on September 18, 1977. NASA—National Geographic—Getty Images
Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Hagan Schmitt stands next to the U.S. flag on the surface of the moon, during a period of extra-vehicular activity at the Taurus-Littrow landing site on December 12, 1972. Corbis
The Agena Target Vehicle is tethered to the GT-11 spacecraft during its 31st revolution of the Earth on September 14, 1966. NASA
Titled Earthrise, shot by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission has been called "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." The photograph was taken from lunar orbit on December 24, 1968 with a Hasselblad camera.NASA
The first ever photo of the Earth from space, shows a sunlit area of the central Pacific Ocean and its cloud cover. It was obtained from Explorer VI Satellite, August 14, 1959. NASA

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