Friday, December 20, 2013

Captain Video

Admit it: work is kinda slow right now. You're just going through the motions waiting for your time off next week. What you really need are videos to watch.

I can help with that.

The first takes some set-up. Over Christmas 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit the Moon. While going about their duties, astronauts Anders, Borman and Lovell shot a photo rightly named one of the Great Images of the 20th Century: Earthrise. The first time people saw the Earth emerge from behind the horizon of another world.

Talk about a change in perspective. This photo of a beautiful blue marble rising above a dead gray rock became a postage stamp, an environmental icon, a New Age banner, a symbol of humanity's conquest of space. It represented a lot of different things to a lot of different people--fitting, since all the people and all the things they care about are contained within it.

Zoom ahead to the 21st Century, where a probe called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been shooting high-resolution photos of the Moon for months. NASA got the idea to match the new LRO data with the old Apollo 8 photos and a real-time tape recording of the Apollo 8 astronauts to show exactly how the Earthrise photo came about--where the spacecraft was, which direction it was pointed, what it was doing, why Anders was the first to see it out his window before the others. The video explains it all very clearly in less than 7 minutes, and I was captivated from the start.

If your pulse doesn't quicken a little when you hear the astronauts' excitement upon their first glimpse of home, you're dead to me.

What I especially like about the video is that it shows the motion of the Earth rising above the lunar horizon, a dimension that the photos, stunning as they are, couldn't convey. This is a view you could never get except from a spacecraft in orbit. No astronaut on the surface would ever see an Earthrise like this. (Think about it for a second: the fact that the Moon always keeps the same face pointing toward Earth means that, for a person on the Moon, the Earth would always hover in approximately the same spot in the sky.*)

(* I realize that libration--the Moon's wobble--would produce a periodic Earthrise along the limb, but you'd have to be in just the right spot for it.)

Look what we can do when we put our minds to it, both in 1968 and 2013.

* * *

Since it's Christmastime, I'll pass this along as well. It's an ad for Sprint. Well, it's supposed to be a viral video of a flash mob doing the dance scene from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," but I wasn't fooled. Still, it's cute and only 2 minutes long.

Which reminded me of this from last year:

I remember reading later interviews with Charles Schulz in which he lamented that for all his success he'd never made his "Citizen Kane," a masterpiece for the ages. I wish I'd had the chance to convince him that he had. For all its lack of polish, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has lasted 50 years and is so much a part of the culture that kids unborn when it first came out make videos about it, and strangers on a New York street corner who see guys playing a tiny piano and dancing with a blue blanket instantly know what they're looking at.

That's an accomplishment. Maybe it's even Art.

* * *

Just a reminder that I'm doing a new webcomic now, and you're all invited/urged/begged to drop in from time to time. Much appreciated!


Andrea said...

Loved the Earthrise video and both Peanuts dances. It isn't Christmas until I've heard "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Thanks for the presents, Brian.

Brian Fies said...

You're welcome!

Jim O'Kane said...

Was watching the Google conference of this earlier today and felt really good that there are other people on the planet who get jazzed about new insights to "old news." LRO has been a cornucopia of updates about the Apollo era, from pinpointing the Earthrise locale to spotting LM landing sites with mind-boggling clarity. Really starting to believe I'll see new footprints on the Moon before I die.

PS Goddard really gets the job done when it comes to video production, don't they? Always love their Vanguard satellite logo whipping across the skyline.

Brian Fies said...

Absolutely. The LRO is one of those quiet "big bang for the buck" missions that not a lot of people know about but is paying off big-time. Similar to Cassini, I think: I doubt 99 people out of 100 know we have probes currently orbiting the Moon and Saturn long term. Looking forward to the day every planet has one!