Orion Spacecraft with Earth and Moon
NASA’s un-crewed Orion spacecraft reached a maximum distance of nearly 270,000 miles from Earth during the Artemis I flight test before beginning its journey back toward Earth. Orion captured imagery of the Earth and Moon together from its distant lunar orbit, including this image on Nov. 28, 2022, taken from camera on one of the spacecraft’s solar array wings. Credits: NASA

By Mark D Phillips, southbrooklyn.com

As a kid, I always assumed I would get to space in my lifetime. Well it doesn’t look that way unless I win one of the half a billion lotteries that didn’t exist when I watched Neil Armstrong step out on the moon.

The Artemis-1 mission is firing the imagination with images that captivate and bring back the excitement of the 1968 Lunar Christmas, an event that brought astronomy into my life. I grew up in an age of exploration that set us toward the stars, and finally feels like it has returned.

By the time I was a ten-year-old watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon, I expected NASA to have a moon base by my teens. But as I got older, I saw how people were not watching the moon missions and didn’t share my excitement every time they “lit the candle.”

The drought from the end of the Apollo program until the space shuttle felt short, but it didn’t quite achieve what I was hoping for. I hoped for more missions to the moon and beyond. I’ll never forget taking my job in Tampa, FL, and thinking at least I would get to see the space shuttle launch. Then, in a horrible second, I watched Challenger explode from a roadside 100 miles away. Listening to the car radio announcer blandly state “that there has been a major malfunction” didn’t stop the tears going down my face. My childhood dreams dissolved in that clear, blue sky of Florida. It was one of the worst things I ever photographed.

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes on launch
Space Shuttle Challenger explodes from Hernando County, Florida, on January 28, 1986. ©Mark D Phillips
Shuttle Discovery launch by Mark D Phillips
On a pillar of fire, Space Shuttle Discovery launches into the Florida sky. ©Mark D Phillips

The space shuttle returned to service just as I left Florida to move to New York. On my way out of the state, UPI hired me to photograph the launch of Discovery on March 13, 1989. It would be the one and only time I experienced the sheer power of our rockets.

Photographing the launch from one of the closest allowable locations, my NASA escort and I felt the ground move like an earthquake as the booster rockets carried the space shuttle to the sky. The earth shook so hard it was difficult to hold my camera on track. Even the tripod was moving. I loved the power of the moment, but it was not going to the moon.

Space Shuttle Discovery at Sunset by Mark D Phillips
Space Shuttle Discovery on Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 1989, the night before launch. ©Mark D Phillips

Now, suddenly, my childhood has reawakened. The pictures from the new Orion mission to the moon are fueling that rebirth.

President Reagan said the Challenger 7 “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” And to the children watching the first school-teacher astronaut, he said, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”

Artemis-1 has the same magical feeling as Apollo 8. The magnificent Christmas Eve 1968 television message from Lunar orbit, “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth,” followed by the most famous space image of my life, “Earthrise” taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders made the earth look so small and vulnerable..

On Christmas Day 1968, poet Archibald MacLeish described in the New York Times our monochromatic television view with heartfelt words:

“To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats,” MacLeish wrote, “is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold.”

It was a pre-digital world where all the images were taken on film, brought back to Earth and developed more than five days after it was taken. The public didn’t see :Earthrise” until Life Magazine’s printed it in a double-page spread after New Year with a magnificent poem by US Poet laureate James Dickey: “And behold / The blue planet steeped in its dream / Of reality, its calculated vision shaking with the only love.”

The photographs from Orion are seen just minutes after they are taken and spread across the Internet with a couple of clicks. But there is something special about a double truck in Life Magazine. It’s hard to compare an image on a phone to that. Now we have robots capturing images that will be iconic and remembered through history. Where are the poets describing these views? Have we all become so jaded to man’s accomplishments that the fire has been lost?

As long as those images fuel the fire of another 10-year-old watching mankind make its first step to the stars, it doesn’t matter who clicks the shutter or who rights the flowing description. 

Earthrise over the Moon, the first time
Taken aboard Apollo 8 by Bill Anders, this iconic picture shows Earth peeking out from beyond the lunar surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon, with astronauts Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell aboard. Image Credit: NASA
Sunday, Dec. 11 — LIVE ON NASA Website and APP
11 a.m. – Coverage of Orion’s entry back to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to complete the Artemis I Mission (Splashdown is scheduled at 12:40 p.m. EST; coverage will continue through Orion’s handover from Mission Control, Houston to Exploration Ground Systems recovery teams in the Pacific
2:45 p.m. (approximately) – Artemis I Orion post-splashdown news conference
Artemis-1 mission on the dark side of the Moon
A portion of the far side of the Moon looms large just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this image taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission by a camera on the tip of one of Orion’s solar arrays. The spacecraft entered the lunar sphere of influence Sunday, Nov. 20, making the Moon, instead of Earth, the main gravitational force acting on the spacecraft. On Monday, Nov. 21, it came within 80 miles of the lunar surface, the closest approach of the uncrewed Artemis I mission, before moving into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. The darkest spot visible near the middle of the image is Mare Orientale.
Craters on the dark side of the moon
On the sixth day of the Artemis I mission, Orion’s optical navigation camera captured black-and-white images of craters on the Moon below. (Credit: NASA)