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A moment of power, fragility

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If only everyone’s commute home after a hard day on the job could be this awe inspiring.

Astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell had accomplished NASA’s goal of pushing a spacecraft beyond the Earth’s orbit. As members of the Apollo 8 crew, they became the first humans to travel around the moon and see it close up in late December 1968.

To pass over the surface of another celestial body must have been an extraordinary experience. There’s little doubt all three of them wished they had the ability to land on the moon.

However, they had to content themselves with the spectator’s view they had through the windows of their command module. They took numerous photographs and documented their observations. Even though they couldn’t get any closer, it was quite a mission for them.

But then something unexpected happened. As they orbited the moon for the first time on Christmas Eve, they saw something even more stunning rise up on the moon’s horizon: Earth.

The astronauts hadn’t anticipated seeing such a glorious view of our planet. They marveled at its incredible beauty set against the dead gray of the moon and the empty void of space. There it was, this blue and white marble suspended in the universe — teeming with life, hope and possibilities.

Mr. Anders took the iconic photograph that has come to be called “Earthrise.” Today marks the 45th anniversary of this historic event.

Mr. Anders, Mr. Borman and Mr. Lovell decided to present this gift to the people back on Earth later that day. The Christmas Eve broadcast was the most watched event in the history of television up until then, and the stars of Apollo 8 did not disappoint.

With the Earth coming up from behind the moon, the crew members each took turns reading portions of Genesis 1:1-10. It was their way of making this occasion even more significant, particularly to the many people back on Earth who were preparing to celebrate Christmas.

Like the Nativity story, the Earthrise narrative of Apollo 8 offered a study in contrasts: something so majestic but yet so vulnerable.

Having astronauts orbit the moon was the height of human achievement. We had pushed our technology far beyond what we previously thought possible.

But from this perch of accomplishment, we could look back at ourselves to see how fragile we are. The delicate globe floating in space requires more care than we often provide.

As commander of Apollo 8, Mr. Borman ended the Dec. 24 broadcast with these words: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas — and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

His words still resonate nearly half a century later.

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