The ‘Blue Marble’: one of the most iconic images of the Earth, 50 years later
On Christmas Eve in 1972, humanity received a gift: a portrait of the Earth as a vibrant globe.
Clouds swirl over the vast African continent and the Antarctic Ice Sheet, all contrasting against the deep blue of our world’s oceans.
The iconic photo, known as “Blue Marble,” was taken on Dec. 7 by NASA astronauts Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt using a Hasselblad camera and a Zeiss lens, about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles) away. ) from home. while the Apollo 17 crew was on their way to the moon.
The detailed image of our planet, framed against the black emptiness of space, encapsulated the awe of spaceflight in one frame. (When asked who should take credit 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 that after gaining this perspective, they feel more protective of our home and its thin atmosphere, both of which seem so fragile from space.
Apollo 17 lifted off in the early morning hours of December 7. Credit: NASA
The Apollo 17 crew had no intention of capturing such an iconic image, said Stephen Garber, a historian in NASA’s history department. Nor was it an important part of the mission plan.
“It was part of this greater awareness of the value of images, not just in terms of science, but also in terms of culture and politics and all the other aspects that motivated the decision to take cameras into space,” she said. said.
The moment went back 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 “Earthrise” when our planet above the desolate, drawn lunar surface.
“We came all this way to explore the moon, and most importantly, we discovered Earth,” Anders said.
The first photographs humans took of Earth during the Apollo missions are among the most reproduced photographs of all time, and 50 years later their power and influence are still present.
The famous “Earthrise” photo was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Credit: NASA
Still, the “Blue Marble” didn’t immediately resonate.
The image failed to make the front pages of newspapers around the world, in part because it faced stiff competition from other news stories.
But while ‘Blue Marble’ didn’t spark 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 the scientific focus on space exploration while inspiring the public. During pre-flight training, the mission’s astronauts said the program’s imminent demise had felt like a “black cloud” over them.
“Everyone who worked 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 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 philosophy, the value of research and the role science and technology play in our society.
“It has an incredible resonance,” Muir-Harmony said. “The ubiquity of this image is now part of the story.”
Her favorite story about the photo comes from an interview Cernan gave after returning to Earth. He emphasized that the image should be understood from a philosophical perspective, as it is a self-portrait of humanity.
“It gives you a very different sense of the world we live in, that geographic and political boundaries are really meaningless when you go into space,” Garber said. “And I think that’s part of what was so special about the ‘Blue Marble’ picture.”
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