Apollo 8, The Most Significant Image of 1968

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On December 24st, 1968, after having seen this image of the earth in person three days earlier, Captain Jim Lovell holds up his thumb and, with it, is able to cover up his entire view of the earth from space. In that moment, all of 1968 and it’s struggles, the assassinations of that year including Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, as well as all the riots and protest could be covered up by a single thumb like Lovell’s from this view. The viewing of the earth from space by human eyes, as captured in this picture by crew member Bill Anders is such a significant accomplishment both scientifically and metaphorically.

In lieu of all the chaos, death, and downfalls of 1968, the year ended with one of the greatest American accomplishments of all time; space travel. It would be the first time men would travel to the moon in human history. 1968 was the climax of the "hippie" era's manifestation into mainstream culture. Humans were advancing immensely in their ability to share their own ideas and be different (If not from each other, than at least from the previous American mindset never reaching more than mildly deviant from conservative culture). In reaching the moon, Americans added to their impressive social innovation with even more impressive scientific innovation. Even more important than the scientific aspect of the discovery, however, is its metaphorical significance.

Seeing the Earth from space in person, especially being able to cover the entire planet with one's thumb, must be the most incredible experience possible. Lovell’s covering of the Earth with his thumb represented that the worst of America’s problems could still be resolved. His putting the Earth behind his thumb held metaphorical significance in that, eventually, Americans would finally start to put their own struggles behind them and move forward into a somewhat more peaceful culture and lifestyle after withdrawing from the Vietnam War and advancing to present day liberties and cultural equality. This was also the first time an American had seen his own country, and entire planet, from space. For the first time, an American could look down and know for a fact that, regardless of whatever political struggle or violent opposition or angry protest was going on down on Earth, the country was still part of the same whole; perhaps divided in some ways, but still very much united as citizens and human beings alike.

Traveling into space and viewing the Earth as a whole represents the ultimate reflection, and stepping out of a situation in order to resolve it. Though the astronauts in space were not the ones to solve the problems, they represent the temporary and resolvable aspect of American struggles during 1968. This image of the Earth from space shows us that no matter how divided certain groups of Americans may be at any given time, they are still united as a country, and must move forward as such in order to be maintain a successful and peaceful society.


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