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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Other Papers Say: Earth from a new perspective

By The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Published: June 15, 2024, 6:01am

Much has been said about William Anders, the astronaut who died June 7 at 90, when the plane he was flying solo crashed in the waters off Orcas Island. He was a fighter pilot turned space explorer. A member of the first manned flight to the moon. A nuclear engineer and adviser to presidents.

He likely did not consider himself an artist. Yet Anders is best known as the creator of a photograph so breathtaking it changed human history, or at least the way we understand ourselves within history.

He was 35 years old, scrunched into an 11-by-13 space capsule orbiting the moon with two other men on Christmas Eve 1968, when it happened. Anders had been assigned to shoot the pocked lunar surface. But on the team’s fourth circuit, the orientation of their Apollo 8 spacecraft shifted, and a startling image came into view.

Rising behind the moon’s drab craters was a blue orb shining in the vast dark of space. Earth, a quarter-million miles away. Down there, as today, people were divided and angry, often violent. America was entangled in war. Leaders preaching peace had been assassinated. People demonstrated in the streets.

But from Anders’ perspective, Earth emerged as an oasis in the darkness, improbable and miraculous.

“Wow, that’s pretty,” he said, scrambling for his camera.

Anders, who retired in Anacortes, would later describe the moment in poignant detail. “The Earth we saw rising over the battered gray lunar surface was small and delicate, a magnificent spot of color in the vast blackness. Borders that once rendered division vanished. All of humanity appeared joined together on this glorious-but-fragile sphere.”

He was career military, an Air Force lieutenant ordered to take specific shots of the moon in black and white. Instead, Anders followed his gut. He popped a roll of color film into his camera, pointed a long lens at the space capsule window and started improvising, hoping to capture what he was seeing, convey what he was feeling.

The resulting image, “Earthrise,” shows our planet glowing in infinite space, vulnerable yet serene. “Borders and division are merely a matter of perspective,” Anders wrote 50 years later, on Christmas Eve, 2018: “We are bound to a planet we all must share. We are all, together, stewards of this fragile treasure.”

His vision altered the perspective of millions. It is widely credited with inspiring the environmental movement. And it is surely one of history’s more poetic ironies that a man who once considered himself an arch cold warrior created an image symbolizing our collective experience, a lasting reminder of our unity as part of the human family.