The iconic Earthrise and Apollo 8 haunt me. I watched “Earthrise” at the Tribeca Film Festival a day ago, and I can still feel the awe inspired by the sight of the incredibly beautiful Earth rising over the moon.
The first men to see the Earth as a blue planet framed by the impenetrable midnight of space behind and the monotonous grey of the moon below recount their adventure. Fifty years ago they were astronauts setting off on the eighth Apollo mission to go where no man had gone before. Their young selves conveyed their excitement in television news interviews; their older selves spoke reverentially of the experience.
Astronaut Jim Lovell described the Earth as “a grand oasis in the vastness of space.”
“I don’t think we captured entirely the grandeur of what we had seen,” he said ruefully.
You don’t realize until you leave it, they said, how beautiful the Earth is “in the midst of all the darkness.”
They were struck by the realization that from their viewpoint, there were no boundaries, no countries, no cities. When director Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee was asked after the screening what effect he hoped his film would have, he only half-jokingly said, “world peace.”
The astronauts remember how keenly they had felt that the faraway “Earth is our home,” and “everything we had was out there on that blue planet.” Lovell in particular lived that truth as captain of the ill-fated Apollo 13.
Hours after watching “Earthrise,” I had an irresistible desire to watch the Hollywood version of the Apollo 13 disaster. I was fascinated by the parallel contrasts of the young astronauts and their much older selves 50 years later and the young Tom Hanks, Ed Harris and the other actors in the movie versus their current, aging selves.
When, two years after Apollo 8, Lovell had to abandon the Apollo 13 moon landing, he was heart-broken. He had been so close before, and now he had to accept that he would never take that moonwalk. But his craft was severely disabled, and all at once, the Earth, not the moon, became the all-consuming goal. The 3-man crew overcame almost unbeatable odds with the help of the scientists and mathematicians of NASA on the ground. They worked feverishly round the clock to devise work-arounds that would bring the crippled spaceship home.
When there was only a very slim chance that the men would return alive, one of the scientists told the head of the Houston ground crew that this was NASA’s darkest hour.
“No, it will be our finest hour,” the anxious chief replied. He was right.
Go to Blue Marble 2012 for a shot of the Blue Marble three years earlier than the one above.