On Christmas Eve in 1972, mankind received a gift: a portrait of the Earth in the form of a living globe.
Clouds swirl over the vast continent of Africa and the southern polar cap, all against the deep blue backdrop 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 using a Hasselblad camera and a 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 take credit for clicking the shutter, the astronauts balked.)
This is called the “big picture effect,” the unique perspective astronauts have of Earth as a planet against the vast background of the universe. Many astronauts said they felt more protective of our home and its thin atmosphere, both of which seem so fragile from space, after gaining this perspective.
Apollo 17 took off in the early morning of December 7. Credit: Nasa
The Apollo 17 crew did not seek to capture such an iconic image, said Stephen Garber, a historian with NASA’s history division. Nor was it a key part of the mission plan.
“It was part of this broader realization of the value of images, not just in scientific terms, but also in terms of culture and politics and all the other aspects that drove the decision to bring cameras into the world. space first,” she said. said.
The moment returned 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, scarred lunar surface.
“We’ve come all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we found 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 “Earthrise” photo was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Credit: Nasa
However, the “Blue Marble” did not resonate immediately.
The image failed to make headlines around the world, in part because it faced stiff competition from other news stories.
But while “Blue Marble” didn’t create an overnight revolution, it came to play an important role in the growing environmental movement.
A self-portrait of humanity
Apollo 17 marked the end of the Apollo lunar exploration program, which was responsible for renewing scientific attention to space exploration while inspiring the public. During pre-flight training, astronauts on the mission said the program’s impending demise felt like a “dark cloud.”
“Everyone working on the program was well aware that this was the last mission, and that really factored into the experience,” Muir-Harmony said.
Astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands by the American flag during a moonwalk during Apollo 17, with Earth in the background. Credit: Nasa
Over time, their “Blue Marble” image has become associated with the philosophy, the value of exploration, and the roles 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 photography story comes from an interview Cernan gave after he returned to Earth. He stressed that the image should be understood from a philosophical point of view, as it is a self-portrait of humanity.
“It gives you a very different sense of the world we live in, that geographical and political borders really don’t make sense when you walk into space,” Garber said. “And I think that’s part of what was so special about the ‘Blue Marble’ picture.”
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