Earthrise 50

by Doug Forrester, founding chairman of Rising Tide Capital

“Earthrise gave humanity — perhaps for the first time — a moment to stand together, to see ourselves connected and in context.”
“The image itself embodies three key pillars: interdependence, long-term thinking and profound collaboration. All are wrapped in a blanket of empathy and compassion. We cannot continue as a species with a two-dimensional map as our model. Humanity is at a critical point in history.” Ron Garan, astronaut, speaker, entrepreneur.

Awe has twin roots: one terrifies; the other inspires. Thirty years ago, I had the privilege of working on the 50th anniversary celebration of an awesome event drawing from the first root: the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast of Martians invading Grover’s Mill, NJ. Now, I am likewise enthused about the prospect of commemorating another 50th anniversary, this one taking its energy from the second root of awe: inspiration given by the iconic photograph from Apollo 8, Earthrise.

In 1988, West Windsor, NJ of which Grover’s Mill is a hamlet, organized commemorative events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the infamous 1938 radio broadcast, written by Howard Koch and presented by Orson Welles. Their Mercury Theatre crew scared the bejabbers out of millions, coast to coast, by artfully reporting a Martian invasion of Grover’s Mill. Social psychology, civil defense warnings and “breaking news” coverage as we know it all followed from this seminal work of talent.

Our four-day, 18-event, commemoration was fabulous. However, it was a private lunch with Howard Koch, the radio playwright, that stands out in my memory these many years later. As Chair of the commemoration committee, I had the privilege of spending time with Howard when we welcomed him to Grover’s Mill, gave him a key to the city and “forgave” him for the ruckus he created by designating our town as the invasion site. I asked him expected questions about details — whys and wherefores of the original event — but it was his offhand comment about what I didn’t ask that stays with me.

I knew Orson Welles assigned Howard to write a radio play based upon the H.G. Wells story of the same name. What I didn’t know was that Howard’s first draft changed Well’s plotline to have the Martians land as friends of humanity to promote the benefits of peace. (The short science fiction story upon which The Day the Earth Stood Still was based, came 2 years later.) Ever the showman and cynic, Orson replied, “Howard, no one is going to believe that!”

Sadly, Orson was right and the rest is history: 12 million people, coast-to-coast, heard the broadcast and a million people believed Martians had landed and were laying waste to the country. Telephone switchboards were overwhelmed and people fled their homes to return, embarrassed and angry. Congress tried to punish the perpetrators; they went on to fame and fortune in Hollywood. In short, a 1938 world anxious because real war clouds were on the horizon fell victim to a national hoax, no doubt in part, because of those fears.

This year, 50th anniversary preparations are underway for a different kind of commemoration, one which taps into the second, wonderful root of awe. Instead of playing on our deepest fears and insecurities about aliens and destruction by superior technology, this commemoration is based upon an event which continues to command our attention but for opposite reasons. It speaks of the beauty of our common humanity and earthly home as well as the possibilities our technological prowess gives us to nurture them. December 24, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Earthrise.

Earthrise (NASA image AS08–14–2383) is the magnificent, breathtaking-beyond-words, color image of earth rising in sunlit glory from behind the moon, taken from Apollo 8. The scene so inspired and humbled its astronauts (and subsequent generations) that they were prompted to share words of spiritual character from Genesis: “In the beginning God…”. The photo is generally regarded as one of the most influential ever taken, one which changed the world.

Multiple fields of endeavor have felt its emotional legacy, ranging from geophysics to environmental science and social justice to international peace-keeping. The common denominator of these efforts is awareness of the vulnerability of the gifts we have received in nature and humanity and the pressing need to reaffirm our affection for them.

So, why celebrate the anniversary of a photograph? The ensuing 50 years have seen many such photos — even better ones. Moreover, details of long-past expeditions are unlikely to interest a fast-moving generation whose interests have fragmented into thousands of social and graphic media portholes. Worse, it seems now that seeking common ground is not a virtue but has become a vice.

It is precisely the latter which warrants a course correction for humanity and commemoration of Earthrise is a promising way to engineer it. Moreover, commemorating events based upon fear — like War of the Worlds — can only temporarily relieve our anxieties. Creatively remembering events of wonder nurture their greater possibilities and prepare us to be open to them. Awe rooted only in fear moves us inwardly, toward myopia and xenophobia; a larger vision (inspiration) is borne from the awe of wonder.

Therefore, it is prudent to reexamine and refresh ourselves with the benefits inherent in the gift of Earthrise. Re-envisioning the first moment this image was shared with a waiting planet is akin to a mother recalling the first glimpse of her newborn. Earthrise gave humanity — perhaps for the first time — a moment to stand together, to see ourselves connected and in context. No doubt, that picture is worth more than a thousand, thousand words.

Rising Tide Capital (RTC), of which I am most proud to be Trustee Board Chairman, is organizing certain commemorative events for Earthrise 50. RTC is a New Jersey-based non-profit focused on facilitating focused on facilitating the entrepreneurial dreams of the most economically marginalized, through education and networking. It is clear to me from the work of RTC during the past 15 years that any effort to refocus and breathe deep the spirit generated from Earthrise is worthwhile, not just for those most vulnerable, but for all.

At year’s end, we will be calling the family and friends of Rising Tide together for a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Earthrise. The purpose of these educational and celebratory events is to refocus on ways in which we can work together to see more clearly and act more boldly to build communities of economic opportunity and peace worthy of the vision glimpsed in the brilliant rise of Earth against the darkness on December 24, 1968.