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"Earth Rise" and Earthrise

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Earthrise is a photograph of Earth and some of the Moon's surface that was taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission.

An email to my children on the day after the inauguration of Joe Biden, 1/21/21:

Hi kids,

I wanted you to see this video of the U.S. Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, reciting her poem, "Earthrise"--which, by the way, is not the poem she read at the inauguration yesterday.

The poem Gorman read yesterday was called "The Hill We Climb." I am sending you this other poem because she mentions your grandfather, William Anders ("Pard" to you, of course) in the first line. Pard's photo was named "Earthrise" because the earth coming over the moon's horizon was like a sunrise where the sun comes over the earth's horizon. I know you already know this, but I wanted to make sure since the youngest of you is only ten years old.

Just below you will find a video that someone made (don't know who) for my song, "Earth Rise" (the "earth" and the "rise" are separated for a reason, as you will see). I wrote this song in 2005 with several co-writers: Mark O'Bitz, Matthew Emerson Brown (Trespassers William), and Marcus Watkins. You know Mark and Matt. Marcus was my friend and one of a handful of songwriting collaborators I worked with before I met your mom. The song was the sixth track on my 2006 album, Tethered to the Ground.

Stay with the video after my song is over and you will hear Pard's voice as he was recorded during his 1968 flight around the moon when he took the Earthrise photo. My lyrics are below (underneath Gorman's poem below). This song was my poem about the earthrise photo. I compare Pard's spaceship to our spaceship earth. As with Pard's flight, we have only "one chance to get it right."

Gorman interprets the "blue marble" of earth in her Earthrise poem as a "true marvel", a home for our community, and she stresses the extreme need for us to take proper care of our home--all of us.

In my lyric poem, I call for "earth" to "rise" to the challenges it faces--separating the words intentionally. How I see these challenges relates to how I interpret the blue marble in Pard's photograph--floating so far from Pard's spaceship as he rounds the moon. I see the blue marble as another, vulnerable spaceship with extremely limited resources, very small compared to the vast ocean of space in which it floats.

I try to understand Earthrise the photograph as an example of what art theorists might call "sublime art":

Sublime art is meant to shake the viewer, to instill fear, and remind them of their own fragile mortality. [Edmund] Burke wrote about a "terrible sublimity" linked to notions of death, powerlessness, and annihilation and in doing so, like Longinus, likened it to the vast, uncontrollable, unknowable ocean. Artists such as Turner and Claude Joseph Vernet translated this in their depictions of shipwrecks, which pose not just fear of death but the fear of the unknown presented by drowning.

It is important to remember that your Pard was one of a crew of three who were the first people to be far enough away from the earth to look back and see it. They were the first people to leave Earth's lower orbit and so the first to look back from the orbit of another celestial body. Pard, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell all broke a slew of world records too, including records for distance from the earth (240,000 miles), and then for speed during reentry (24,696 mph).

During his flight, when Pard was asked who is doing the driving, he responded: "I think Isaac Newton is doing most of the driving now." Like earth's inhabitants, the Apollo VIII astronauts only had so much control over their flight. As David Bowie wrote for his song, "Space Oddity":

For here am I sitting in my tin can/Far above the world/Planet Earth is blue/And there's nothing I can do ... /Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles/I'm feeling very still/And I think my spaceship knows which way to go ...

Death must seem very close while "floating in a tin can far above the world." When there is nothing you can do, I imagine that a feeling of powerlessness would start seeping in. When you see your home planet from this distance, it seems like it would seem much smaller than when you are at home standing on that planet. When seen this way, I imagine that your home planet might start to resemble your tin-can spaceship in significant ways--especially when it is seen floating in the same "vast, uncontrollable, unknowable ocean" of space, 240,000 miles away.

Unlike the seamen of Turner's shipwrecks, we earthlings have no other ship nearby that might save us, no other floating objects which we can grab to stay above the water, and no shore that might rescue us if we could just reach it. The ocean of space is just as uncaring as Turner's seas--but far vaster, and far crueler. And, like the A8 astronauts, we have only one ship.

Shipwreck of the Minotaur, J. M. W. Turner, 1810

Human-caused climate change is like the seamen using up all the supplies of their ship ... but their ship would have no sails and no port in which to replenish supplies.

The sublime calm of space is actually more menacing to spaceship earth than Turner's raging seas ever could be to the seamen in their tossed-around ships. I see the "blue marble" as a very fragile spaceship--potentially even more rickety than Pard's tin-can spaceship.

I see the "blue marble" of Earthrise as beautiful and as our home, but I also interpret this photograph as a prime example of sublime art that shows our very finite spaceship earth as being in an extremely precarious situation, floating in a sea as menacing as it is calm, and quickly becoming uninhabitable to all of those who call it home, as portrayed in the film, Interstellar.

I hope all of this is not too bleak, not too heavy for you, my three young ones. I know you are already dealing with a very heavy pandemic, and that you were on board with climate change activism even before the pandemic started.

I am really proud of all three of you. You have all been very brave and smart about the pandemic and climate change. I am hopeful that we will be able to get out of this pandemic, and I am hopeful that the US will be able to restart its climate change initiatives and rejoin the rest of the responsible world now that our four-plus-year nightmare is over. Because you are young, such a big percentage of your time on earth has been taken up by this worldwide nightmare. I would understand if it is harder for you to be hopeful at this point. It is hard for me at times, to be honest.

Now, go to bed and have sweet dreams. :) I love you, Dad

Eric Anders, Tethered to the Ground (2006)

Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz, The Loss We've Won (2022)

Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz, "One Life" (2022)

EARTHRISE -- A POEM BY AMANDA GORMAN JANUARY 9, 2019 The following poem by Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States Amanda Gorman was read from the stage at the Los Angeles Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training on Tuesday, August 28, 2018. Our Purpose in Poetry: Or, Earthrise Dedicated to Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project On Christmas Eve, 1968, astronaut Bill Anders Snapped a photo of the earth As Apollo 8 orbited the moon. Those three guys Were surprised To see from their eyes Our planet looked like an earthrise A blue orb hovering over the moon’s gray horizon, with deep oceans and silver skies. It was our world’s first glance at itself Our first chance to see a shared reality, A declared stance and a commonality; A glimpse into our planet’s mirror, And as threats drew nearer, Our own urgency became clearer, As we realize that we hold nothing dearer than this floating body we all call home. We’ve known That we’re caught in the throes Of climactic changes some say Will just go away, While some simply pray To survive another day; For it is the obscure, the oppressed, the poor, Who when the disaster Is declared done, Still suffer more than anyone. Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time, Of this, you’re certainly aware. It’s saddening, but I cannot spare you From knowing an inconvenient fact, because It’s getting the facts straight that gets us to act and not to wait. So I tell you this not to scare you, But to prepare you, to dare you To dream a different reality, Where despite disparities We all care to protect this world, This riddled blue marble, this little true marvel To muster the verve and the nerve To see how we can serve Our planet. You don’t need to be a politician To make it your mission to conserve, to protect, To preserve that one and only home That is ours, To use your unique power To give next generations the planet they deserve. We are demonstrating, creating, advocating We heed this inconvenient truth, because we need to be anything but lenient With the future of our youth. And while this is a training, in sustaining the future of our planet, There is no rehearsal. The time is Now Now Now, Because the reversal of harm, And protection of a future so universal Should be anything but controversial. So, earth, pale blue dot We will fail you not. Just as we chose to go to the moon We know it’s never too soon To choose hope. We choose to do more than cope With climate change We choose to end it— We refuse to lose. Together we do this and more Not because it’s very easy or nice But because it is necessary, Because with every dawn we carry the weight of the fate of this celestial body orbiting a star. And as heavy as that weight sounded, it doesn’t hold us down, But it keeps us grounded, steady, ready, Because an environmental movement of this size Is simply another form of an earthrise. To see it, close your eyes. Visualize that all of us leaders in this room and outside of these walls or in the halls, all of us changemakers are in a spacecraft, Floating like a silver raft in space, and we see the face of our planet anew. We relish the view; We witness its round green and brilliant blue, Which inspires us to ask deeply, wholly: What can we do? Open your eyes. Know that the future of this wise planet Lies right in sight: Right in all of us. Trust this earth uprising. All of us bring light to exciting solutions never tried before For it is our hope that implores us, at our uncompromising core, To keep rising up for an earth more than worth fighting for.

Earth Rise (©2005 Anders/Brown/O'Bitz/Watkins) Long flight Ride above Dead satellite Earthrise One chance to get it right Can't take it over Our only ride Oh, earth rise You know it's time In circles we're goin' Finite So bright Far beyond Dead satellite Should be able to abide Take with each other This lonely ride Oh, earth rise You know it's time In circles we're goin' Finite Is there anything but this ride? Could it ever be alright? We're nothing tonight In circles we're goin' Finite Hold tight Tethered to Blue satellite We're buffeted side to side Until it's over Enjoy the ride Oh, earth rise You know it's time In circles we're goin' Is there anything but this ride Oh we gotta make it right We're nothing tonight, yeah Oh yeah, earth rise

Eric Anders, 1/21/21


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