Delicate Planet: Remembering Bill Anders

Armodoxy for Today: Delicate Planet

Today we note the passing of William Anders, one of NASA’s Apollo astronauts from the 1960’s, one of a select group of people through whose efforts the moon landing became possible in 1969.

William Anders flew on Apollo 8, the first man-made object to leave the orbit of the Earth and enter the orbit of another astronomical body, in this case our planet’s nearest neighbor, the Moon. During the Apollo 8 mission the astronauts were charged with circling the Moon, observing the lunar surface, recording their findings and returning back to Earth.

The Moon’s surface is made up of craters and dust. Black and white film was what they used to photograph the landscape.

As the astronauts’ attention was focused on the Moon, in the midst of snapping away pictures, William Anders was the one who turned his head inside the space capsule and noticed a beautiful blue planet peaking its head over the horizon. Quickly, he loaded color film into his camera and began shooting the image outside his window at various f-stops to compensate for the uncertainty created by this never-seen-before event. It was the Earth, rising above the Moon’s horizon. It was the first time ever, that any human life form had witnessed an earthrise.

Anders later said, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and we discovered the Earth.”

The event took place on Christmas Eve 1968. The image was radioed back to Earth for everyone to see our planet through the eyes of William Anders and the chance event of turning his head. The crew of Apollo 8, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read the story of Creation as a Christmas present to the world. Genesis chapter 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”

That day, that picture and the message it conveyed, changed the way humans saw our planet. The photograph is now iconic and continues to be a reminder of how delicate our existence truly is on this planet of ours.

Sometimes, all it takes to refresh our view of life is to turn our head and view life from another window, from another angle. When Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek” to evil, he is asking us to consider the beautiful colors outside our window, even when we’re focused on a seemingly black-and-white world. Truly the challenge for humanity is to turn around, reimagine a world where evil can be overcome by goodness, where violence does not have to be met with violence, where our metaphors include putting out fire with a hose, rather than more fire.

William Anders passed away at age 90. The picture he shot from the space capsule will never die because it is a glance at the goodness which God shared with us, His creation. May God rest the soul of William Anders.

We end with a prayer that one of the other astronauts in the same space capsule, Frank Borman, prayed from space on that Christmas Day: “Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure. Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.” Amen.

Cover: Moonrise, 1968 NASA (Apollo 8)

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