‘Earthrise’: The photo that sparked an environmental movement

On Christmas Eve, 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 captured a spectacular sight as they orbited the Moon: the illuminated Earth appearing above the barren lunar horizon.

The Nasa astronauts were awestruck by what they saw.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” Bill Anders shouted at fellow astronaut Jim Lovell. “You got a colour film, Jim? Hand me a roll of colour, quick, would you?”

“That’s a beautiful shot,” said Lovell as he clicked the shutter and captured what has become one of the world’s most famous photographs.

The image was coined “Earthrise”. It was the first colour photograph of Earth taken from space and quickly circulated around the world. The photo is widely credited with propelling the global environmental movement and leading to the creation of Earth Day, an annual event promoting environmental activism and awareness, in 1970.

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More than 50 years after it was shot, Earthrise continues to be seen as one of the most iconic environmental photographs ever taken.

“It’s just the perfect image,” says Michael Pritchard, programmes director at the Royal Photographic Society in the UK. “It was a colour and good high-resolution image that could be reproduced really well and it provided a perspective of the Earth that had never been seen before.”

“It clearly showed the Earth from space but also put it into a context that we hadn’t seen before,” he says. “It showed that Earth was this very vulnerable sphere in space.”

In the late 1960s, environmental perspectives and activism were rapidly sweeping across the United States and Europe. The environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were founded in 1969 and 1971, respectively. The US government established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

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