“Wow, is that pretty!” seems like an underwhelming way to sum up one of history’s most iconic and mind-expanding moments. But that’s exactly how NASA astronaut Bill Anders characterized the view as planet Earth filled the windows of the Apollo 8 spacecraft a half-century ago. Anders grabbed a camera to capture what he was seeing, and the results were more than pretty: his haunting images of a luminescent Earth emerging from the darkness of space permanently changed how humans see their home.
In Earthrise, author/space enthusiast James Gladstone and first-time illustrator Christy Lundy offer a potted history of that photo. The Apollo 8 mission was the first to involve a manned spacecraft breaking free of Earth’s orbit, then returning. The crew did moon recon for later Apollo missions. Getting the first-ever shot of our planet was an added bonus.
Perhaps to counteract the awkward reality that – Hidden Figures aside – most old-school NASA stories tend to be about white men in shirt sleeves, Gladstone and Lundy give Earthrise a curious framing device. The book opens with a spread depicting a young Black girl watching an anti-war demonstration, while the text tells us that 1968 “was a year of unrest.” From there we jump right to the moment when the three Apollo 8 astronauts arrive at the launch pad. The whole book does this: leaping back and forth between the story of the mission and groups of rapt, multiracial Earthlings following it via TV, radio, and newspapers.
At the end of the book, the protest-curious girl pastes a print of the Earthrise photo on her wall – the implication being that this one photo helped to heal the racial, political, and geopolitical wounds of the era. Of course, it didn’t. Still, Earthrise’s semi-utopian tone is kind of sweet – even if it might be lost on young readers who’ve never heard of Bobby Kennedy or the Tet Offensive.
There are lots of cool details about the photo that are left out of the story, like the fact that there are others in the series and video, too. There’s even audio recording of the moment when Anders snapped his photo. More context for the Apollo missions and a list of further reading would’ve helped. As it is, the book ought to act as a kind of appetizer for readers who want to dig a little deeper into the early days of space travel.