In 2003, at a memorial service given for the lost crew of Shuttle Columbia, George Bush spoke some surprisingly insightful words: “This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart.” It’s only a desire of the heart that could really persuade us to leave this vast, accommodating blue planet, for a rendezvous with the infinite inky blackness of space. As proven by the loss of Columbia and Challenger, there are risks, but the rewards bring tears to your eyes. Just as nature abhors a vacuum so does fortune favor the brave, and 45 years ago almost to the day, we were rewarded with a photo; Earth, as no one had ever captured her before, viewed from the horizon of the moon. Formally referred to as AS8-14-2383, but known affectionately, as ‘Earthrise.’ (video below)
For those of a Generation Y persuasion, you may see little reason to fuss over this photo. I mean, you’ve seen it so many times and many more like it. But keep in mind this was from the 60s, when there was no internet, the camera it was taken on had no light meter, and that it was one of the first times in history when humanity had proof in a picture that the world was in fact round, and suspended in nothingness. That makes this monumental.
It’s generally accepted that modern movements of planet awareness and conservation stemmed from this photo. And what camera was used to capture the occasion? Well, John Glenn, first man in orbit, took along a little 35mm Minolta made camera as an afterthought on his trip, but Hasselblad’s were the mainstay of the space program after.
Apollo 8 orbited the moon before Apollo 11’s landing, and used a Hasselblad 550C and EL with Zeiss lenses. They were mechanical gems with superior optics. They were also relatively easy to use with film preloaded into magazines, which allowed for film to be changed mid roll when the lighting did. They were also anodized to cut reflections and specially modified controls so the crew could operate them in their suits. The film was specially made by Kodak at NASA’s request. On Apollo 8, three magazines were loaded with 70 mm wide, perforated Kodak Panatomic-X fine-grained, 80 ASA, b/w film, two with Kodak Ektachrome SO-68, one with Kodak Ektachrome SO-121, and one with super light-sensitive Kodak 2485, 16,000 ASA film. Of the 1100 photos returned, one was Earthrise. See the video for details on how it was part chance it was captured, and note the awe it instilled in the astronauts when they saw it. It’s astonishing, and moving.
As someone into photography you are into visuals and art, but you are also likely a techy. And space, provides tech specs in numbers as wide as the heavens, each more gargantuan than the other, and each fact more frightening; The shuttle needs to break 17,500 mph to break out of Earth’s atmosphere; it produces over 35 million horsepower; our universe is expanding into infinity; the vacuum of space will cause your blood to boil in moments and muffle your scream. It’s amazing, especially when you consider those calculations were done in the 60s, with naught but a pencil and a sliderule. As a self-confessed space obsessive, I can honestly say pictures like this and ‘Blue Marble’ are what made me want a Hasselblad H4D-50. It’s actually the only reason I would rent my friends and sell my dog to get one now.