The ‘Blue Marble’: one of the most emblematic images on Earth, 50 years later

The ‘Blue Marble’: one of the most emblematic images on Earth, 50 years later

In snapwe look at the power of a single photograph, telling stories about how both modern and historical images have been made.

On Christmas Eve 1972, humanity received a gift: a portrait of the Earth as a living globe.

Clouds move over the vast African continent and the South Polar Ice Cap, all set against the deep blue of our world’s oceans.

The iconic photo, known as the “Blue Marble,” was taken by NASA astronauts Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt on Dec. 7 with a Hasselblad camera and Zeiss lens, about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles ) from home. as the Apollo 17 crew headed for the Moon.

The detailed image of our planet, framed against the black void of space, captured the awe of spaceflight in a single frame. (When asked which person should be credited for clicking the shutter, the astronauts objected.)

It’s called the “overview effect,” the unique vantage point astronauts have of Earth as a planet against the vast backdrop of the universe. Many astronauts have said they feel more protective of our home and its thin atmosphere, which appears so fragile from space, after gaining this perspective.

Apollo 17 took off in the early morning of December 7th. Credit: NASA

The Apollo 17 crew didn’t set out to capture such an iconic image, said Stephen Garber, a historian with NASA’s history division. Nor was it a key component of the mission plan.

But since the Gemini program in the 1960s, NASA had made sure that all astronauts were format in photography to capture images that could communicate the experience β€” and majesty β€” of spaceflight to the world, said Teasel Muir-Harmony, Apollo curator at the National Air and Space Museum.

“It was part of this greater awareness of the value of images, not only in terms of science, but also in terms of culture and politics and all the other aspects that motivated the decision to take the cameras into space in first place,” he said. said

Environmental icon

The moment harked back to another Christmas Eve, four years earlier, when Apollo 8 astronauts – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders – became the first humans to orbit the Moon and witness “Earthrise ” as our planet rose above the desolate and scarred. lunar surface

“We came here to explore the Moon, and most importantly, we discovered Earth,” Anders said.

The first photos of Earth taken by humans during the Apollo missions have become some of the most reproduced of all time, and 50 years later, their power and influence remain.

The famous "Departure from Earth" The photo was captured during the Apollo 8 mission.

The famous “Earthrise” photo was captured during the Apollo 8 mission. Credit: NASA

Still, “Blue Marble” didn’t immediately resonate.

The image didn’t splash across the front pages of newspapers around the world, in part because it faced stiff competition from other news stories.

At that time, American participation in the Vietnam War was coming to an end and US President Richard Nixon had launched an intense bombing campaign to try to end the conflict. Former President Harry Truman was ill and died on December 26. Meanwhile, sensational headlines about cannibalism splashed across the world’s newspapers following the discovery in mid-December of survivors of a plane crash in the Andes months earlier.

But while “Blue Marble” didn’t create a revolution overnight, it did play an important role in the growing environmental movement.

The first earth day had been held on April 22, 1970. Over time, the Apollo 17 photo became the banner image for the event and part of the iconography of the green movement, said Muir- Harmony. Prior to “Blue Marble,” campaign imagery had often focused on pollution, gas masks, and endangered species.

A self-portrait of humanity

Apollo 17 marked the end of the Apollo lunar exploration program, which was responsible for renewing the scientific approach to space exploration while inspiring the public. During pre-flight training, the mission’s astronauts said the program’s impending demise had felt like a “black cloud” over them.

“Everyone working on the program was very aware that this was the last mission and that really factored into the experience,” Muir-Harmony said.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands next to the American flag during a moonwalk during Apollo 17, with Earth in the background.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands next to the American flag during a moonwalk during Apollo 17, with Earth in the background. Credit: NASA

Over time, his image of “Blue Marble” has become associated with philosophy, the value of exploration, and the role that science and technology play in our society.

“It has incredible resonance,” Muir-Harmony said. “The ubiquity of this image is now part of its history.”

His favorite story about photography comes from an interview Cernan gave after returning to Earth. He emphasized that the image should be understood from a philosophical perspective, because it is a self-portrait of humanity.

“It gives you a very different idea of ​​the world we live in, that geographic and political boundaries really don’t make sense when you go into space,” Garber said. “And I think that’s part of what was so special about the ‘Blue Marble’ photo.”

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