Observations

Revisiting Apollo 8 and the famous Earthrise image at a Chicago museum

The historic Apollo 8 capsule

The historic Apollo 8 capsule that circled the Moon in December 1968 is on display in the Henry Crown Space Centre. Photo Nick Lomb

In early July during a short trip to the United States I took the opportunity to pay a brief visit the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the country’s largest museum. It was impossible to take in the whole of the vast museum, but I selected a number of exhibitions to visit, including the display of the Apollo 8 capsule that circled the Moon and became the first manned craft to leave the vicinity of the Earth.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Photo Nick Lomb

One impressive exhibition I saw was a fully automated toy factory, ToyMaker 3000. For a payment of $5 you can watch a toy being assembled by robots specifically for you and at the end the toy is even packaged automatically. You can collect the finished product by presenting your receipt for scanning. Another exhibition was a large model railway, The Great Train Story, showing how goods are transported to Chicago from a shipping terminal at Seattle. In the model 20 trains run continually on over 400 metres of track against a backdrop of scale models of the buildings of Chicago and Seattle.

Rotunda Museum Science & Industry Chicago

The Rotunda at the museum gives a choice of many fascinating exhibits to visit. Picture Nick Lomb

Of course, I soon made my way to the Henry Crown Space Centre. There I controlled a model of a Mars rover though I did not have the time or the patience to fully back it out of the corner in which it had been left. As well, I was not fully successful in getting a space shuttle to dock with the International Space Station using an interactive computer simulation. There was too much else to see including a training mock-up of the Apollo 11 lunar lander that was used to give shows every few minutes illustrating the excitement of the first Moon landing.

A philatelic envelope commemorating the launch of Apollo 8

A philatelic envelope commemorating the launch of Apollo 8. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum

What caught my eye though is the Apollo 8 capsule in which Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders were the first people leave the vicinity of the Earth and circle the Moon in late December 1968. This was an important milestone towards the first landing on the Moon that took place just seven months later. Although 1968 was a turbulent year with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Tet offensive in Vietnam and much else Time magazine named the three Apollo 8 astronauts as Men of the Year.

The Apollo 8 image of Earthrise from the Moon.

The Apollo 8 image of Earthrise from the Moon. Courtesy NASA

The greatest legacy of the Apollo 8 mission is one photograph that they took as they came around the Moon in the capsule and saw a gibbous blue Earth rising above the lifeless surface below. That one image changed the perspective with which people saw our home planet. Previously, it was seen and ignored as a large, solid, stable and permanent surface that fully encompassed all human activities, past, present and future. Now people could see it is a delicate fragile object moving on its own in a much greater Universe. This fragile object needed protection and so this, now iconic and ubiquitous, picture is credited with beginning the environmental movement.

Inscription to Earthrise from the Moon photo on display at Chicago Museum Science and Industry

The inscription to the Earthrise from the Moon photo on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Photo Nick Lomb

Seeing the Apollo 8 capsule and being reminded of its great significance was a fitting conclusion to visiting the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

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