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How One Apollo 8 Photo Changed the World

Bill Anders captured the first image of our planet that changed the world on Dec. 24, 1968. The living, blue globe rising over the desolate moon's surface. NASA
Bill Anders captured the first image of our planet that changed the world on Dec. 24, 1968. The living, blue globe rising over the desolate moon's surface. NASA
Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman (R), James A. Lovell Jr. (C) and William A. Anders (L) sitting inside dummy capsule on board NASA Retriever boat during training. Ralph Morse—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Apollo 8 command module pilot James Lovell points to a map of lunar terrain he and Frank Borman, right, and William Anders, behind Lovell, are expected to photograph during their planned lunar orbital mission. AP/REX/Shutterstock
Mission control during Apollo 8 blastoff on Dec. 21, 1968 AP/REX/Shutterstock
Apollo 8 blastoff at Cape Kennedy, Florida. AP/REX/Shutterstock
Huge searchlights illuminate the 363-foot-tall Saturn 5 booster rocket in Cape Kennedy, Florida, which will propel the Apollo 8 spacecraft and its three astronauts into space. AP/REX/Shutterstock
As the Apollo 8 space mission takes off, Marilyn Lovell (second left), and three of her children (from left, Susan, Jeffrey and Barbara), watch as astronaut James Lovell (Marilyn's husband) launches into space. Yale Joel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Astronauts inside the capsule during the moon orbiting flight of Apollo 8. NASA—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Astronaut Frank Borman waves goodbye at the end of television transmission from the Apollo 8 spacecraft as it raced toward the moon. AP/REX/Shutterstock
A television view of the moon was transmitted by the Apollo 8 astronauts, as their spacecraft orbited the moon. Anthony Camerano—AP/REX/Shutterstock
Earth as seen from space during the Apollo 8 mission. NASA—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Crater pocked surface of the moon as seen during the Apollo 8 mission. NASA—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
This photograph taken from Apollo 8 spacecraft, shows the Saturn V third (S-IVB) stage from which the spacecraft had just separated following translunar injection. AP/REX/Shutterstock
Recovery of Project Apollo 8. AP/REX/Shutterstock
More than 2,000 people were at Ellington Air Force Base to welcome the members of the Apollo 8 crew back home on Dec. 29, 1968.
President Nixon receives the 3 astronauts from Apollo 8 at the White House on Feb. 3, 1969. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Frank Borman, from Apollo 8, and wife Susan Borman, with the Mayor of Rome, Rinaldo Santini, right, during a visit to Rome City Hall on Feb. 13, 1968. Jim Pringle—AP/REX/Shutterstock

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.

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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.

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