I recently heard the famous picture “Earth Rise” described as “the first selfie of us all, the whole planet.” It was in an episode of This American life, during an interview with astronaut Frank Borman.
Borman has no fascination with space. He didn’t dream of being an astronaut as kid. He hates science fiction and has never seen Star Trek – to him Casablanca is the greatest film of all time. He joined the mission simply because he wanted to contribute to the cold war (beating the Russians to the moon).
He described being in space not as thrilling but rather unremarkable. He wasn’t awed by its vastness and he didn’t feel like an adventurer.
The only time he felt moved by the experience was when they were circling the moon. He was peering out the small window looking at the moon – it was cold, grey, lifeless – when he saw the Earth coming up on the horizon.
“It’s 240,000 miles away,” explains Borman. “It was small enough you could cover it with your thumbnail. The dearest things in life were back on earth – my family, my life, my parents.”
Of course, it was at this moment that the famous Earth Rise photo was taken – the astronauts hadn’t been told to take any photos of the earth, their job was to photograph the moon. But it was the first time that anyone had seen the glowing blue orb from this angle. It was the first time that we were able to look at ourselves from this distance.
Too often we focus our gaze outward, looking to the next hurdle, the next challenge the next adventure. Very rarely do we stop long enough to fully drink in the wondrous present. And we prize the act of marching off rather than setting up camp, we value exploration over domestic life.
But Borman is different. When he returned from space he didn’t talk about the mission very much with his family. “It was a wonderful time of reunion and emotion, and the last thing from my mind was to tell them what the moon looked like.”