Tag Archives: Earthrise

The Blue Marble, our home


Blue Marble 2015 NASA


Earthrise from Apollo 8, 1968

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.

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Five Shorts long in imagination

Treated to a screening of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival and knowing nothing in advance about any of them, I marveled yet again at human diversity and creativity.

The first film was “Earthrise,” by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. The three astronauts of Apollo 8 tell the story of their otherworldly adventure from launch to splashdown. It was an experience that immeasurably enlarged and changed their perspectives. The first humans to orbit the moon, they were awestruck when they saw the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. They recall the emotion they felt when they saw their distant home, a blue planet ascending in brilliant color from the moon’s unremitting gray into the blackness of space. Their mission was to photograph the moon’s surface, but the first pictures ever taken of the Earth from space eclipsed the novelty of the far side of the moon. Their iconic photo of earthrise is one of the most famous photos ever taken.

The Blue Line” examines what happens when someone paints a blue line down the main street of a small town in order to honor the police. The line exposes a previously well hidden division between conservative and liberal, white and black. Voices raised in anger on either side of the divide eventually come to a town meeting to hear each other out. When Samantha Knowles heard about the controversy from her dad, she immediately dropped everything and returned to her childhood home to document the affair. One of the tiny percentage of African-Americans in an overwhelmingly white community, she was amazed and gladdened by the willingness of all the townspeople to speak with her.

The third film, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” is a son’s attempt to come to terms with destructive family relationships, and especially with his father. Charlie Tyrell pieces together an understanding of his distant, dead father with scraps of memorabilia. He draws on his own little bit of hard knowledge with very few existent photos, including the single one of him and his father together, the memories and impressions of his sister, random artifacts his father left behind and family stories he had heard to trace the origins of his father’s unwillingness to be known.

Sindha Agha tells her story of battling menstrual pain in “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She represents her period with raspberries floating in water, catsup among balloons and other unique metaphors. She made the film in two days to distract her when her pangs were particularly intense. Her experience, she discovered, is far from unique. Women called and wrote and shared their stories, stories that no men wanted to hear, stories that they kept undisclosed for most of their lives.

Lance Oppenheim is a junior at Harvard, fascinated by the man who calls himself “The Happiest Guy in the World.” He profiles Mario Salcedo, a man who boarded his first cruise 20 years ago and never returned. Mario lives his fantasy, shucking off the responsibilities of living on land. He doesn’t have to take out the garbage, for example. Someone else makes his bed and cooks and serves his food. Oppenheim gives Mario free rein  to explain why he is the happiest guy in the world, but he seems to be unaware of some glaring contradictions in his narrative. Strange.

All the filmmakers are under 40, three in their 20s and one not twenty yet, and all have made other films. I was struck by the originality of their work and the compelling stories they tell. Agha’s and Tyrell’s shorts are available in the New York Times Op-Docs section, and the others will soon be. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.

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Filed under People, Race, Space exploration, Women