It has become a Christmastime ritual for me: The videos of Apollo 8 come down off the shelf, and I relive the first voyage around the moon. Suddenly it's December 1968, and three astronauts are heading into deep space, farther than anyone has ever been. They see the Earth dwindle in the blackness until it is so tiny that they can cover it with an outstretched thumb. They can hear the immense distance in every conversation with mission control, as their radio signals take a long moment to cross the vast cislunar gulf. Then they are flying around the moon. Floating at the windows, they look down on an ancient and lifeless world whose cratered surface makes them think of the last battlefield of the final war. Drifting over the far side of the moon, out of radio contact, they are alone with the universe. And then comes the most electrifying moment of the entire flight: As they come around from the far side, they see a luminous, blue and white Earth rising above the bleak moonscape. The extraordinary beauty of the first Earthrise fills them with humility and awe. In that moment they understand that most of all, a journey to the moon is a chance to see our own world, in the words of Apollo 8's Jim Lovell, as a grand oasis in the vastness of space.
Even as I return to these fantastic moments, I long to see them repeated today. To hear, once again, voices coming to us from across that vast distance, from a place where only a handful of people have been. I want to share in the exhilaration of a trip to the moon, just as I did all those years ago, when I sat in front of the Heathkit television my dad built, watching the fuzzy, black and white images coming down from Apollo 8. I feel sure that today's lunar voyagers would bring along high-definition camcorders, to share their experiences with the rest of us more vividly than ever before.
And now, it seems, my longing will be fulfilled. People are talking about flying to the moon again — soon. Unlike the Apollo missions, born of the Cold War, these would be international voyages, with Russians and Americans side by side. Indeed, they would spring not from the will of governments but from the drive of free enterprise to open up the space frontier. It’s a scenario I could scarcely have predicted in 1968, and yet, I feel that things are happening the way they should. It is time to look beyond the well-traveled orbits of shuttles and stations, to head out across the vast gulf of space once more and gaze upon the ancient shores of another world. It's time to see what the Apollo astronauts saw as they looked homeward in awe; it is time for a new Earthrise. I only hope that the next moon voyagers will savor their experience in all its dimensions, and that through them, all of us will share in the ultimate adventure.