On Christmas Eve 1972, humanity received a gift: a photograph of the Earth as a living globe.
Clouds hover over the vast African continent and the Antarctic ice cap, all set against the deep blue of the world’s oceans.
The famous image, known as “Blue Marble,” was taken by NASA astronauts Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmidt on December 7 using the Hasselblad camera and Zeiss lens, about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles) from home, as the Apollo 17 crew made their way to his way to the moon.
Framed against the black void of space, the detailed image of our planet captured the awe of spaceflight in one frame. (When asked who should be given credit when the shutter clicks, the astronauts refused.)
It’s called the “overview effect,” and it’s the astronauts’ unique point of view of Earth as a planet against the vast backdrop of the universe. Several astronauts have said they feel more protective of our home and its thin atmosphere, both of which look so fragile from space, after gaining this perspective.
Apollo 17 lifted off in the early morning hours of December 7. attributed to him: NASA
Stephen Garber, a historian in NASA’s Department of History, said the Apollo 17 crew did not set out to capture such a distinctive photo. Nor was it a major component of the mission plan.
“It was part of that greater awareness of the value of images, not only in terms of science, but also in terms of culture, politics and all the other aspects that motivated the decision to take cameras into space in the first place,” he said.
The moment flashed back to another Christmas Eve, four years ago, when the Apollo 8 astronauts—Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders—became the first humans to orbit the Moon and witness the “Earthrise” as our planet rose above the deserted Earth. The surface of the moon.
Anders famously said, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and most importantly, we discovered the Earth.”
The first images humans took of Earth during the Apollo missions became some of the most replicated ever, and 50 years later, their power and influence still linger.
The famous “Earthrise” photo was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. attributed to him: NASA
However, the Blue Marble didn’t resonate immediately.
The photo didn’t make the front page of newspapers around the world, in part because it faced stiff competition from other news stories.
But while Blue Marble didn’t create a revolution overnight, it did play an important role in the growing environmental movement.
Self-portrait of humanity
Apollo 17 marked the end of the Apollo Lunar Exploration Program, which was responsible for renewing the scientific focus on space exploration while inspiring the public. During pre-flight training, the mission’s astronauts said the program’s impending demise felt like a “black cloud” over them.
“Everyone working on the program was well aware that this was the final task, and that was really factored into the experiment,” said Muir Harmony.
Astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands next to the American flag during the moonwalk during Apollo 17, with Earth in the background. attributed to him: NASA
Over time, the image of “Blue Marble” has become associated with philosophy, the value of exploration, and the roles that science and technology play in our society.
“It has an incredible resonance,” said Muir Harmony. “The ubiquity of this photo is now part of her story.”
Her favorite story about the photo comes from an interview Cernan gave after returning to Earth. He stressed that the image must be understood in philosophical terms – because it is a self-portrait of humanity.
“It gives you a much different sense of the world we live in, that geographic and political borders don’t really make sense when you get to space,” Garber said. “And I think that’s part of what was so special about the Blue Marble photo.”
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