The Planetary Report®
Where Life Began

December Solstice 2018

Where Life Began

On the Cover: When Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell rounded the farside of the Moon, they became the first humans to witness an Earthrise above an alien surface. The iconic image was first published on 30 December 1968, 50 years ago this month.
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Advocating for Space

Total Immersion in the Heavens

Casey Dreier assesses the significance of the Apollo program on its 50th anniversary.

Your Place in Space

No Place Like Home Planet

Bill Nye is inspired by the connection between exploring other worlds and making discoveries on Earth.

Vicky Hamilton explores how OSIRIS-REx used its Earth flyby to test instruments on the way to asteroid Bennu.

We take a look at how different lunar and planetary missions have photographed our home world and its moon.

Michael L. Wong asks how our understanding of the origin of life on Earth informs our search for it elsewhere.

Richard Chute discusses options for year-end philanthropy.

Developments in Space Science

A Busy Summer

Total Immersion in the Heavens

Why Earthrise Resonates 50 Years Later

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James A. Lovell Jr., Apollo 8
James A. Lovell Jr., Apollo 8 Astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. pilots the Apollo 8 spacecraft command module, December 1968.Image: NASA

No Place Like Home Planet

Exploring Space to Learn About Ourselves

Bill Nye is chief executive officer of The Planetary Society.

By exploring space, we learn more about our planet and ourselves. On the cover, we celebrate Earthrise, the famous photo of our blue marble of a planet taken by astronaut Bill Anders on 24 December 1968. (Some disclosure: I remember it well as an 8th grader.) Viewing Earth from the Moon changed the way people everywhere viewed Earth and our place in the cosmos. Seeing Earth from space was a powerful reminder that humankind—in fact, all life as we know it—is united here on this beautiful yet fragile world.

In the coming year, we will celebrate and reflect on the groundbreaking achievements of Apollo. Check out the Apollo timeline right here on this page and read Casey Dreier’s essay inside the front cover on the cultural significance of the 50th anniversary of humans on the Moon.

An Apollo timeline
An Apollo timeline While Apollo astronauts were taking their first steps into space, it was a period of rapid scientific and technological progress back on Earth, as this timeline illustrates. Robotic spacecraft were also fanning out toward multiple solar system destinations for the first time. The Apollo program’s flight phase spanned just 6 years, from 1967 through 1972. Each crewed mission made incremental progress toward the goals of reaching the Moon, landing on it, and performing scientific exploration. We will be celebrating the 50th anniversaries of each of the Apollo milestones over the next 4 years.Image: Assembled by Loren A. Roberts for The Planetary Society; The Planetary Society

In these 50 years since Apollo, humankind has explored farther away from home. As we venture out, we continue to look back at our home world. In this issue, Emily Lakdawalla showcases some of the best self-portraits taken by robotic explorers, and Vicky Hamilton describes how OSIRIS-REx used its instruments to examine Earth during a flyby on its way to asteroid Bennu.

As we continue to explore, we seek answers to the fundamental questions about the origin of life and the origin of species—like you and me. In “The Making of Life,” Michael Wong explains how life may have developed here on Earth and elsewhere.

These quests to find life in the cosmos and to understand our place in space are deep within us. We’re curious, we’re tenacious, and we’re explorers. The Planetary Society was founded to keep humankind exploring. Through your passion, you prove public support for space exploration. Members like you are not only passionate about space; you’re willing to act to advance exploration by spreading the word on social media, participating in letter-writing campaigns, volunteering, and financially supporting our projects and programs.

Because of you, we’re ready to fly LightSail 2, our solar sail spacecraft that is 100 percent funded by members and supporters (see Bruce Betts’ update on LightSail in this issue). Because of members like you, I am able to communicate with you here in The Planetary Report.

Your support also enables us to directly advocate for continued exploration to government agencies. A recent example of this was my participation in a Washington Post Live event with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Unlike my previous informal discussions with the administrator, this one was in public with a large in-person audience and a live webcast. Planetary Society Vice President Heidi Hammel and I were on a panel with the administrator, and we talked about what we see as the opportunities in space today and in the near future. Heidi described the great value of planetary exploration: the more we learn about other worlds, the more we learn about our own. We agreed that discovering life elsewhere would be astonishing. Deflecting an incoming massive rock or block of ice (asteroid or comet) could be vital. Also, the International Space Station has a unique role in international engagement and diplomacy. We discussed the key to the future: the money (NASA’s budget). I managed to remind everyone there that a big reason the world’s largest nongovernmental space organization (your Planetary Society) exists is to help lawmakers make the right decisions about missions and funds.

In the 50 years since Apollo and the 38 years since the founding of The Planetary Society we have accomplished a great deal, but the best is yet ahead. I am delighted you all have joined us. Let’s explore!

Flying By Home

Testing OSIRIS-REx’s Tools on the Way to Asteroid Encounter

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Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx flying past Earth on September 22, 2017
Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx flying past Earth on September 22, 2017 Image: NASA / GSFC / UA

Spacecraft Earth

Looking at Our Home Planet From Outside Its Atmosphere

Earthset from Zond 7
Earthset from Zond 7 Zond 7 flew past the Moon, taking this sequence of images of Earth setting behind the lunar limb, on August 9, 1969. The sequence actually consists of only three images; the second one was simulated from data in the others to even out the Earthset sequence.Image: Russian Academy of Sciences / Ted Stryk

The Earthrise photo that graces the cover of this magazine was the first color photo taken in space to include Earth and the Moon in the same frame, but it was far from the last. Many other lunar orbiters and landers have photographed both worlds. Some spacecraft turned to look at our home planet as they departed it. Others came in from the vast blackness of space to revisit Earth on a gravity-assist flyby. A few have even looked back toward home from distant reaches of the solar system. Seeing Earth afloat in space imparts a dramatic shift in perspective; Earth is no longer solid ground but just another spacecraft, one that carries every living thing we know of into an unknown future. Here are a few rarely printed examples of these dramatic images of our home planet and moon. You can find more on our website at

Earth and Moon from Longjiang-2
Earth and Moon from Longjiang-2 A previously unreleased image of the Earth and Moon from the KACST-developed camera on Longjiang-2 on 24 September 2018.Image: CNSA / KACST
Chang’e-5 T1's view of Earth and the Moon.
Chang’e-5 T1's view of Earth and the Moon. In this unusual farside perspective from a Chinese lunar sample return test vehicle named Chang’e-5 T1, the Moon looms much larger than the more distant Earth. It was taken on 28 October 2014.Image: CNSA
Earth from Hayabusa2 (reprocessed)
Earth from Hayabusa2 (reprocessed) This was Hayabusa2’s view of Earth during its 4 December 2015 flyby. Ice-covered Antarctica is at the center of the image, and Australia is near the right. This photo has been specially processed to portray Earth’s colors as the human eye would perceive them.Image: JAXA, courtesy Hidehiko Suzuki

The Making of Life

Grappling With the Emergence of Life on Earth Helps Researchers Understand How to Search for It Elsewhere

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Underwater on Europa?
Underwater on Europa? A future mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa may deploy an autonomous submarine to explore Europa’s subsurface ocean to look for signs of life, concentrated either at ocean-floor hydrothermal vents or clinging to the ice-ocean interface.Image: Loren A. Roberts for The Planetary Society

Timing Is Everything

Year-End Gifts to Support Space Exploration

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Sunrise over sea ice near the North Pole
Sunrise over sea ice near the North Pole Image: NASA / James Yungel

A Busy Summer

LightSail 2 and Solar Sailing Updates

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LightSail 2 Mission Readiness Review team
LightSail 2 Mission Readiness Review team The LightSail 2 Mission Readiness Review team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on July 17, 2018. Back row: John Bellardo, Cal Poly; Dave Spencer, Purdue. Middle row: Barbara Plante, Boreal Space; Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society. Front row: Alicia Johnstone, Cal Poly; Alex Diaz, Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation. Not pictured: Darren Garber, NXTRAC.Image: Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

What's Up?

by Bruce Betts


On 21 January, there will be a total lunar eclipse visible throughout most of North America, South America, the eastern Pacific Ocean, the western Atlantic Ocean, western Europe, and western Africa. A partial lunar eclipse will be visible in other parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. On 6 January there will be a partial solar eclipse visible in parts of eastern Asia and the northern Pacific Ocean. Very bright Jupiter is below extremely bright Venus in the pre-dawn East until it passes Venus in the sky on 22 January. At that point dimmer, yellowish Saturn is below the other two but passes above Venus in the sky on 18 February. Reddish Mars continues to fade in the early evening West as Mars and Earth grow farther apart in their orbits.


Besides being the first humans to witness an Earthrise (see cover), the Apollo 8 crew (Borman, Lovell, and Anders) were also the first to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to orbit the Moon, and the first to see the farside of the Moon with their own eyes.


Our June Solstice contest winner is Nicholas Green of Waterloo, Iowa. Congratulations! The question was: By volume, about how many of Mars would fit inside Earth?

The answer: About 6.64 of Mars would fit inside Earth.

Try to win a copy of The Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration: NASA and the Incredible Story of Human Spaceflight by John Logsdon and a Planetary Radio T-shirt by answering this question:

Who were the final members of the backup crew for the Apollo 8 mission?

E-mail your answer to [email protected] or mail your answer to The Planetary Report, 60 S. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101. Make sure you include the answer and your name, mailing address, and email address (if you have one). By entering this contest, you are authorizing The Planetary Report to publish your name and hometown. Submissions must be received by 1 March 2019. The winner will be chosen in a random drawing from among all the correct entries received.

For a weekly dose of “What’s Up?” complete with humor, a weekly trivia contest, and a range of significant space and science-fiction guests, listen to Planetary Radio at

Where We Are

An At-A-Glance Spacecraft Locator

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Where We Are on 1 January 2019
Where We Are on 1 January 2019 From the December Solstice issue of The Planetary Report.Image: Loren Roberts for The Planetary Society after a concept by Olaf Frohn
Primordial Sunset
Primordial Sunset Life started in the seas. Water provided the medium and all the nutrients needed for life to form, but perhaps it didn’t evolve spontaneously. Perhaps it was seeded by comets, asteroids, and meteors from other inhabited planets.Image: RC Davison, <a href=""></a>

The Planetary Report • December Solstice 2018

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