"Fifty years ago this month, the three-man crew of Apollo 8 swung around the moon’s far side and encountered a vision never before seen by human eyes: the sunlit Earth, juxtaposed against an ashen lunar plain, and a backdrop of infinite black space.
Frank Borman, Apollo 8’s commander, has expressed frustration that he and his fellow astronauts failed to convey, with words, the cosmic import of their experience. “I don’t think we captured, in its entirety, the grandeur of what we had seen,” he once said.
By the time Apollo 8 splashed home in the Pacific, writers had already tried to bridge the gap between the astronauts’ limited literary powers and the extraordinary sight they beheld. “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence,” the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote in the Christmas 1968 edition of The New York Times, “is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold, brothers who now know they are truly brothers.”
Many literary interpretations of this new motif—the astronaut gazing back at Earth—would follow. But perhaps none has surpassed a two-paragraph passage in Don DeLillo’s 1983 short story, “Human Moments in World War III,” about two men aboard an orbiting military space station, one of whom becomes entranced by his view of Earth through the station’s window. The planet “fills his consciousness,” DeLillo writes, “the answer to a lifetime of questions and vague cravings.”
With special permission from Mr. DeLillo, the passage will appear here at The Atlantic through next July’s anniversary of the first moon landing."
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