“Earthrise” & “Blue Marble”
Famous Photographs by NASA of Planet Earth from Space; 1968, 1972
Creation of Planet Earth
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and it was good” (Genesis 1). “And the LORD God…put man in the Garden of Eden to work in it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to recognize its Creator! And to recognize and obey the mandate we have been given by Him since the beginning to care for it.
Care of Planet Earth
The more we study and learn about Planet Earth – our beautiful, magnificent home – the more we come to understand its complexities and its fragility – the more we should be compelled to take personal responsibility for its care – every day, not just on April 22nd.
As we witness the recent phenomenal landing on Mars, we must recognize that this mandate expands to the universe, not just our Planet Earth.
As an educator, observing Earth Day was a great way to include a study of geology, ecology, conservation and the environment into our spring curriculum, and a perfect time to move our classroom outdoors!
Creation of Earth Day
When did Earth Day begin? And why? Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin felt strongly about issues related to our environment and was disturbed that it was not addressed in politics or by the media. At that time there was no EPA, no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect the environment. As a way to force this issue onto the national agenda, he established the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970. It was an instant hit with an estimated 20 million people nationwide attending festivities that day.
A New View of Planet Earth
In 2021, we are accustomed to seeing views of Planet Earth as seen from outer space. It was not always so.
In 1948 the physicist Fred Hoyle had predicted that “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available . . . a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” What Hoyle hadn’t predicted was that the photograph would need to be of the highest quality and in color. Enter the world of space exploration – and the advancements of color photography – and this powerful new idea became reality!
“The most influential environmental photograph ever taken”
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, 20+ years after Hoyle’s prediction, two such powerful photographs emerged. Spanning the Apollo space era, “Earthrise” was taken during the first manned mission to the moon, and the “Blue Marble” was taken during the last. They have become two of the most reproduced images of all time. In Life magazine’s 2003 publication: 100 Photographs That Changed the World wilderness photographer Galen Rowell called Earthrise “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
Popularly – and appropriately – called the “Blue Marble,” (NASA photograph AS17-148-22726) was released to the public on Christmas Eve 1972, four years to the day after “Earthrise” had been taken. NASA’s press office made much of the image. Interestingly, the photograph isn’t mentioned at all in the mission’s official report! Nor did the astronauts refer to it in their report to Congress as was traditional after each mission.
The Blue Marble shows an almost entirely full Earth seen in full sunlight. It contains a lot of detail because it had been taken relatively close to the Earth. Centered on Madagascar, one can see how truly enormous Africa is. Africa appears, as do all countries around the equator, much smaller than its true size when projected on most maps. (See the photo of Africa in the series of photos at the end of this blog.)
Even today most people do not realize quite how vast Africa is. Added together, the landmasses of all of China, the United States, India and Japan, plus nearly all of Europe, fit within Africa’s coastline.
The camera behind all these phenomenal photos also needs to be acknowledged! It was the modified camera of Victor Hasselblad that accompanied the Apollo missions to the moon. It was his camera that took the Blue Marble and Earthrise photographs. And appropriately enough, he also happened to be visiting the Manned Space Center at the time the photo was taken – making him one of the first people to see the photographs! I cannot imagine what a thrill that was for him!
A “Right” Way Up for Planet Earth?
One of the things I found fascinating in my research into these first photographs was that the astronaut, Jack Schmitt, originally took the photograph with Antarctica at the top. NASA chose to release it the “right” way up. That raises the notion that we are encouraged to hold on to the old paradigm of what the earth is by continually orienting photographs of the Earth with Antarctica at the bottom and the Arctic with its North Pole at the top!
It is reported that, for those who have seen the earth from outer space as it truly is, there comes with it the enlightenment of experiencing the Earth as a globe falling through space. This evokes the intriguing idea that what we can understand intellectually is something entirely else when we consider what it really is. We live our lives on Planet Earth, on the surface of a sphere, rock and water bounded by a skin of an atmosphere, which is forever plunging through black space. (Somehow that is a frightening image on which I am not going to dwell!)
We have to ask ourselves if a photograph alone can provoke that leap of understanding? A photograph with Antarctica at the “bottom” certainly does not help.
43 Years in the Life of Planet Earth
- Information taken from “Behind the Most Famous Photograph Ever Taken” by Christopher Potter https://lithub.com/behind-the-most-famous-photograph-ever-taken/
- Genesis passages taken from Holy Bible, New International Version, 1978.
- Photos taken from Google Images