The moon is still dark and for a good reason. 1968. Bill Anders, the rookie astronaut of the three onboard Apollo 8, orbiting our moon, his principle duty was to photograph sites of scientific interest on the lunar surface. They had traversed the dark side of the moon, so-called not because it’s dark but unseen from an Earth’s perspective, a result of its mass relative to Earth’s, and the distance and forces between the two bodies: the moon is large enough to partner the Earth in a cosmic waltz around the Sun, face to face for eternity.
It was a disappointing voyage across the dark side, craters, ridges, plains – the usual stuff. And then it happened. As they approached the end, they saw out of their window the Earth rising out of the Moon’s horizon. A beautiful blue-green jewel gliding skywards in the black firmament. Can you imagine the emotion?
Anders camera was filled with monochrome film, and almost all frames exposed. He took a photo of the Earth emerging from the stark lunar landscape with the remaining frame, then asked for a roll of colour film. With this loaded, he took the image which easily surpassed all of those he’d taken of the moon, the real purpose of the mission, and gave the Earth not only the defining moment of the voyage but a profound sense of the glorious nature of Planet Home.
Had the Moon not been dark, had it been slightly brighter, more colourful and vibrant, the emotional response would have been much less, possibly unremarkable. But it was dark, and the Earth shone brilliantly. And the moon is dark still.
There was some controversy about which of the three astronauts – Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell – had taken the defining image. While it was Anders’ job to take specific pictures of scientific interest to a set programme, Borman adamantly remembers taking that particular photo himself. He had used the camera at another time to take an unscheduled “tourist” snap and the fallibility of memory under the force of emotion probably had him mixed up. Even Lovell jokingly got in on the act by joshing everyone how he took the photo. But it was more likely Anders, as mission control voice recordings suggest.