On Christmas Eve, 1972, humanity received a gift: an image of the Earth as a living globe.
Clouds over the vast continent of Africa and the south polar cap, all set against the blue of our ocean world.
The iconic image, known as the “Blue Marble” was taken by NASA astronauts Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt on December 7, using a Hasselblad camera and Zeiss lens, about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 feet) from home; as Apollo 17 sang his journey to the moon.
Each image of our planet, framed against the black void of space, captured the terror of space in one body. (When asked which individuals believe clicking on the launcher, the astronauts will be relieved).
It’s called the “overview effect,” the astronaut’s unique vantage point of Earth as a planet against the vast backdrop of the world. Many astronauts have said that they feel more at home and protected by our thin atmosphere, both of which appear so fragile from space, from a vantage point.
Apollo 17 on the morning of the 7th of December. Credit: NASA
The Apollo 17 crew did not set out to capture the iconic image, said Stephen Garber, a historian in NASA’s history division. Nor was that plan a central part of the mission.
“It was part of this wider awareness of the value of images, not only in terms of science, but also in terms of culture and politics and all the other reasons that motivated the decision to take cameras in space in the first place.” he said.
Flash forward to another Christmas Eve, four years earlier, when the Apollo 8 astronauts — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders — became the first humans to orbit the moon and witness “earth” as our planet rose above the desert, scarred. lunar surface
“We came all this way to explore the moon, and it’s the most important thing we’ve found since Earth,” Anders famously said.
The first images of Earth taken by humans during the Apollo missions are some of the most reproduced of all time, and fifty years later, their power and influence remain.
The famous “Earthrise” photo was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Credit: NASA
However, “The Blue Marble” didn’t immediately resonate.
The image of the newspaper shot around the world was not spread on the front page, both because it faced stiff competition from other news stories.
But while the “Blue Marble” didn’t create a revolution overnight, it did play an important role in the growing environmental movement.
A self-image of humanity
Apollo 17 marked the end of lunar exploration, which was responsible for inspiring a renewed scientific focus on space exploration for the public. In pre-flight training, the mission’s astronauts said the program’s impending doom felt like a “black cloud” over them.
“Everyone working on the program is well aware that this is the ultimate mission and really factored in the experience,” Muir-Harmony said.
Astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands with an American flag during the Apollo 17 moonwalk, with Earth in the background. Credit: NASA
Over time, their image “Blue Marble” became associated with philosophy, the power of exploration and the role that science and technology play in our society.
“They sound incredible,” Muir-Harmony said. “The ubiquity of this image is now part of his story.”
She gave her favorite story about the photograph from the Cernan interview after he returned to Earth. He explained that the image must be understood in a philosophical perspective – that it is a portrait of the human race.
“It gives you a very different sense of the world we live in, that geographic and political borders are completely empty when you go into space,” Garber said. “And I think that’s part of what’s so special about the blue marble photo.”
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