Earthrise as a Mosaic and a Stained Glass Window

Earthrise is the name of one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century. The photo, of planet Earth above the gray landscape of the Moon, was taken by astronaut Bill Anders, during the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968, Christmas Eve.

Lonely this Christmas

Astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Jim Lovell were incredibly far from home in late December 1968. To boldly go where no one has gone before, indeed. And all this over Christmas. After all, there was a space race going on: staying ahead of the Russians was more important than spending the holidays with the family.

Never before had anyone traveled beyond Earth orbit, which is in fact only a few hundred miles from home. But these three men went more than 300,000 kilometers into space. And that’s where they saw their colorful home planet rising in an endless black void above the gray, lifeless Moon landscape.

On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Earthrise, NASA made this video, which shows in detail the events that brought us the photo. it’s a fascinating clip, because it makes you feel like you are there in person.

NASA | Earthrise: The 45th Anniversary

The three men did not land on the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin would do that six months later. But they certainly made history. Although I did not realize that at the time. As a six-year-old boy, I thought it was the most natural thing in the world for Americans to occasionally travel to the Moon. Only later did I understand how special it was.

The Blue Marble

A few hours after the photo was taken, the Apollo 8 crew made a television broadcast that was viewed by more people than ever before. But it is mainly the Earthrise photo that lives on in the memory and that has had an influence on our world view that cannot be underestimated.

For the first time we saw in reality what untill then we could only imagine: the Earth as a beautiful blue, green and white sphere in an infinite black void. A fragile, one-of-a-kind oasis in a hostile desert.

Is it a coincidence that two years later, in 1970, Earthday was first celebrated, that Greenpeace was founded in 1971, that the Club of Rome report was published in 1972, that green political parties sprang up everywhere later that decade? I don’t think so.

The Earthrise mosaic, a remake of the famous photo made in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission
The Earthrise mosaic

Make Humanity Great Again

I made the digital mosaic shown above, a remake of the Earthrise photo, a few weeks ago. The news had been dominated by terrorists, populists and dictators; though it was mid-summer there hardly was a silly season. I am an optimist by nature and have always felt that we are slowly moving forward. Not automatically, not without a struggle, but still… Now I started to doubt.

What I had in my head was a kind of digital graffiti: Make Humanity Great Again. soemhow it eventually became a remake of Earthrise. Unlike my virtual reliefs, this mosaic was made entirely in Photoshop, with creative use of layer effects. I may one day devote a tutorial to it.

It doesn’t hurt to look at this mosaic, or the original photo, every now and then. Terrorists, populists and dictators should do that more often as well.

Detail of the Earthrise mosaic, a remake of the famous photo made in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission
Close up of the Earthrise mosaic

When I put the mosaicon Facebook and Twitter, I received favorable responses. But when someone remarked that Earthrise would also look good as a stained-glass window, spontaneously all kinds of programs started working in my head.

Instant Art

How to make a virtual stained-glass window? One possibility is, of course, Photoshop. That program even has a “stained glass button” that can turn any photo into a church window. Earthrise would look something like this:

Quick adaptation in Photoshop of the Earthrise photo using the stained glass filter
Stained glass in Photoshop

Great fun, of course, such a piece of instant art, but it has its limitations. The only things you can control are the size (and number) of the glass surfaces and the thickness of the frames. But you don’t have any influence on the shapes of the glass. Photoshop simply creates a random pattern of pentagons and hexagons.


Finally I enlisted the help of Autodesk and I made the virtual window in two programs that are in fact not really made to do these things: AutoCAD and 3ds Max. This is a screenshot from Autocad:

Work in progress: screenshot from Autocad with the Earthrise stained glass window under construction
The making of a digital stained glass window


All those colors were a tool to distribute different types of glass in a nice way across the window. In total I used 27 types of glass; twelve for the Moon, twelve for space, and three for the Earth. However for the Earth I also applied many different colors. Moon and space are less colorful but still have all sorts of shades and patterns. Because only gray and black glass in a stained glass window, that looks a bit boring.

In total, the window contains no less than 3276 pieces of glass:

Virtual stained glass window inspired by the famous Earthrise photo of the Earth above the desolate landscape of the Moon in the vast emptiness of space
Earthrise in 3276 pieces of glass

Line patterns

Beside the colors, also the lines are important when designing a stained-glass window. In the globe, one can recognize meridians, tropics and polar circles. Space holds a five-pointed star shape. In the Moonscape, the foreground of the original photo, horizontal lines play a more important role. And certain lines run from the Moon into space and from space into Earth, to symbolize that they’re actually not separate elements but parts of a larger whole.

And indeed, all the continents on the same side of the planet. after all, it’s an interpretation of reality.


Fragment of the Earthrise stained glass window with a piece of the southern hemisphere above the mountains of the Moon
Space, the Moon and Earth’s southern hemisphere

How all the patterns and colors of the glass work together can be appreciated best by taking a closer look. Above we see the Southern Hemisphere and the Antarctic over the mountains of the Moon:


Close-up of the Earthrise stained glass window showing a piece of the globe with Europe, the Atlantic and North America
North America, Africa, Europe and the Atlantic ocean in stained glass

To conclude, here’s one more close-up. The attentive reader will recognize, from right to left, Europe and Africa, the Atlantic Ocean and North America. Looking through the eyelashes one may notice details such as Greenland, the Mediterranean, and perhaps the British Isles. The Netherlands, country where this piece was created, fades away on this scale. That puts things, once again, in perspective.

Kerkachtige ruimte met een groot glas-in-lood-raam, gebaseerd op de beroemde Earthrise-foto van de Apollo8 uit 1968
Eartrise in an imaginary churchlike space

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