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The Apollo program transfixed the United States and the world in the 1960s for its heroic effort to fulfill the promise of President John F. Kennedy to go to the moon. But its most endearing legacy may have been, not visiting the barren world that is our planetary companion, but granting us a view of the bounteous world that is our home.
When Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders snapped a photograph of Earth, partially in shadow, rising above the moon’s surface in 1968, he provided the clearest image yet seen of our world and its fragility in space.
'Earthrise,' 'Blue Marble' and 'Pale Blue Dot'
The Apollo missions, which concluded in 1972, coincided with the birth of the modern environmental movement—the founding of Friends of the Earth in 1969 and Greenpeace in 1971, the first Earth Day in 1970, among other seminal events—and the sight of Earth from space offered inspiration and motivation. Many years later, photographer Galen Rowell described Earthrise as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
Earthrise was followed by Blue Marble, a view of the Earth taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft in 1972. That was the last of the Apollo moon missions, but NASA’s space probes continued to take longing glances back toward their home world.
WATCH: How the Earth Was Made on HISTORY Vault.
Among the most famous of those images was taken in 1990. On the initiative of Carl Sagan, who first proposed photographing Earth with Voyager cameras in 1981, Voyager 1 snapped the image of a barely visible Earth that became known as the “Pale Blue Dot.” Voyager also captured images of Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus, and staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mounted the set as a mosaic on an auditorium wall. The image of Earth had to be repeatedly replaced because so many people touched it.
A Library of Earth Images Continues to Grow
In 1989, NASA formalized a Mission to Planet Earth, in which examining the third planet from the sun was no longer incidental to its work but central to it. In the three decades since then, the agency’s Earth Science program observation has expanded along with both the technological ability and the growing imperative to do so.
Through interplanetary probes, orbiting satellites and camera-wielding astronauts on space shuttles and the and the International Space Station, NASA and partners such as the European Space Agency (ESA) have compiled an ever-growing image library of our own planet.
The images reveal how Earth is altered by land use, human activities, weather phenomena and climate changes. The thousands upon thousands of images reveal moments in time and seemingly timeless vistas, of our world up close and from afar.
As Anders himself observed, 50 years after his first Earthrise image was released: “We set out to explore the moon, and instead discovered the Earth.”
Forty years since the first picture of earth from space
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They went to the Moon, but ended up discovering the Earth. The crew of Apollo 8 were the first people to leave Earth's orbit and pass behind the far side of the Moon. They had been drilled and trained for just about every eventuality, save one – the awe-inspiring sight of seeing our own planet hanging over an empty lunar horizon.
It later became known as "Earthrise" and the image of the world rising in the dark vastness of space over a sun-lit lunar landscape became an iconic reminder of our lonely planet's splendid isolation and delicate fragility.
The image was captured during Christmas Eve 1968 but the photographs themselves appeared for the first time in print 40 years ago this week. It was an image that would eventually launch a thousand environmental movements, such was its impact on the public consciousness.
The three-man crew of Apollo 8 – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – were carrying out the necessary groundwork for the later manned landing on the Moon and were the first people to orbit the Moon, flying around the far side which is not visible from Earth.
They were also in effect the first people to lose complete contact with their own planet, not being able to see or radio Earth for the duration of their journey behind the Moon. It was only when they completed the orbit that they could regain contact.
Ironically, for the first three orbits, the crew had their backs to the Earth as it re-appeared over the lunar horizon and did not see the iconic view that would change their lives. It was only on the fourth orbit that one of the men turned round and saw the spectacle for the first time.
"Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Isn't that something?" he said, his words captured for posterity on the on-board tape recorder. They quickly scrambled for a camera – the first couple of images of "Earthrise" were in black and white, subsequent photos were taken in colour. It is these colour photographs that became the iconic images of the environmental movement.
They showed the stark contrast between the grey, desolate landscape of the lifeless Moon and the vivid blue-and-white orb of the fertile Earth – a symbol of warmth and life in a bleak desert of deathly coldness.
Sir Fred Hoyle, the great British cosmologist, rightly predicted in 1948 that the first images of Earth from space would change forever our view of our own planet. "Earthrise" encapsulated the fragility of a place that seems so immense to the people who live there, but so tiny when viewed from the relatively short distance of its natural satellite.
Since then, hundreds of still images were taken of Earth during the nine Apollo flights to the Moon, but only 24 people have seen the whole of the Earth from space.
The American astronomer Carl Sagan captured the mood well when another picture of Earth was taken from space, this time in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft at a distance of 3.7 billion miles.
In this picture, the Earth appeared as a "pale blue dot" surrounded by the vastness of space, like a tiny mote of dust caught in a sunbeam.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives," Sagan said in 1996.
"Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."
And so it took catching sight of our own place in space to realise that the Earth is the only home we have, and we had better look after it.
'We gave that film tender love and care. There was no room for error'
In the early days of 1969, Dick Underwood, Nasa's chief of photography, was working on seven rolls of Kodak film in his lab at the Houston headquarters of the US space agency Nasa.
The films had travelled with three men from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, the crew of Apollo 8, and had just brought back their record of mankind's first visit to another world.
The rolls, four in black-and-white and three in colour, contained a total of 865 frames. Unknown to those who received the films, among them were a handful of images that would become some of the most famous pictures in the history of photography.
The photos were carefully developed by Mr Underwood and his team. Speaking from his office in Houston, where he runs his Space Panoramas business, Mr Underwood recalled that day: "We had rehearsed the procedures hundreds of times with test films – checks on electrical systems including a back-up, purity and exact temperature of water, precise chemical mixtures, humidity of air to dry the film, and every other detail.
"I took them to my area of the photo lab where we had a special processor that I had built for Apollo space film. We gave that very thin film tender love and care. There was no room for error. Failure was not going to happen."
Many of the pictures were stunning – the last stage of the rocket surrounded by floating debris a huge Earth seen for the first time as a complete globe hanging in a black void and the scarred and cratered surface of the Moon at close quarters.
But one picture stood above all the rest in its unfailing ability to produce gasps. It showed the Earth from a distance of quarter of a million miles, a fragile blue and white sphere, hanging over a barren grey-brown lunar horizon.
Underwood watched the film emerge from his developing machine: "The processing of that first roll and seeing those Earthrise pictures while the film was still wet was one of the great moments in my life. Seeing the film come out of first wash was like being a witness to a great event in history."
25 of The Most Iconic Images of Earth Taken From Space
When people and robots launch into space on far-off missions, it's a quiet tradition to briefly turn back toward Earth and take a photo.
These rare views of our home planet - recorded from hundreds, thousands, millions, or even billions of miles away, often with outdated cameras - are rarely as crisp or colorful as the smartphone images we snap today on terra firma.
But the exceptional perspective they afford more than compensates for any visual shortcomings.
Photos of Earth from space not only help scientists understand how a habitable world looks from afar, helping the search to find more cozy planets, but also remind us of a humbling and chilling truth: we live on a tiny, fragile rock that is hopelessly lost in the cosmic void.
Here are 25 of the most arresting images of Earth and the Moon from space that humankind has ever captured. (We recommend viewing this post on a desktop computer.)
A few rare satellites launched by humanity enjoy a full view of Earth from thousands or even a million miles away.
Taken by: Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) spacecraft
NASA and NOAA created this composite image using photos taken by Suomi NPP, a weather satellite that orbits Earth 14 times a day. You can see the Joalane tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean (top right).
Their unending gaze helps us monitor the health of our world while catching rare alignments of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.
Taken by: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)
Orbiting from a million miles (1.6 million km) away, NASA's DSCOVR satellite always views this sunlit half of our planet. This allowed it to take 13 images of the Moon's shadow as it raced across Earth during the total solar eclipse of 2016.
Together, they make up one of the most complete views ever of the event.
But it's when we venture deeper into space that Earth comes into spellbinding focus.
To rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2007 - which it will crash into (on 30 September 2016) - the Rosetta spacecraft needed a speed boost with the help of Earth's gravity. This photo it took of Earth shows the South Pole and Antarctica illuminated by the Sun.
Our planet appears as a brilliant blue marble wrapped in a thin, nearly invisible veil of gas.
The crew of the last crewed lunar mission, Apollo 17, took this 'blue marble' photo of Earth - one of the most-reproduced images in history (though no one is certain which astronaut took it) - from 28,000 miles (45,000 km) away on their trip to the Moon.
Africa is visible at the top left of the image, and Antarctica on the bottom.
And it drifts utterly alone in the blackness of space.
A view of Africa taken from 98,000 miles (158,000 km) away from Earth, while astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin were on their way to the Moon.
Well, almost alone.
About twice per year, the Moon passes between DSCOVR and its prime target - and then we get a rare look at our satellite's far side. This series of images was taken between 3:50pm and 8:45pm EDT. (The yellowish line to the right of the Moon is a camera artifact.)
The Moon - a cold, airless ball of rock 50 times smaller than Earth - is our largest and closest celestial friend.
Taken by: William Anders of Apollo 8's crew
NASA's famous 'Earthrise' image was taken as Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders swung around the Moon.
During a broadcast with Earth, Lovell said: "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realise just what you have back there on Earth."
Its kinship with us is uncanny: the Moon formed after a Mars-size planet smacked into a proto-Earth some 4.5 billion years ago.
NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Taken by: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
Launched by NASA in 2009, LRO normally stares down at the cratered surface of the Moon - but took a moment to snap this modern-day 'Earthrise' composite photo.
We know this only because, since the 1950s, nations all around the world have launched people and robots there.
In 2008, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) released this high-resolution version of a Lunar Orbiter 1 photo of Earth from the Moon, which was taken on Aug. 23, 1966.
Lunar Orbiter 1 took this photo while scouting for places astronauts might land on the Moon.
Because 1960s technology couldn't access the full depth of image data that NASA had recorded on analog tapes, however, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project recently recovered this version of the famous image.
The full-size version is large enough to print as a billboard.
Our lunar exploration is a mixed pursuit of technological conquest.
Taken by: Michael Collins of Apollo 11's crew
The Eagle lunar module of Apollo 11 as it returns from the surface of the Moon.
A whetting of insatiable human curiosity.
Chinese National Space Administration/Xinhuanet
A rare view of the far side of the Moon, taken by the China National Space Administration's lunar probe. China has grown increasingly capable of exploring the solar system alongside NASA, ESA, Russia, India, and other space-faring nations. I
ts next Moon mission: to return a lunar soil sample in 2017 if it succeeds, it will be the first collected since the last Apollo missions in the 1970s.
And seeking out the ultimate adventure.
The astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan took this video during Apollo 10, the second crewed mission to the Moon - what was essentially a dry run for Apollo 11 (minus the landing).
Because the same side of the Moon always faces our planet, such 'Earthrise' views only happen when a spacecraft is moving.
The Earth never seems to be too distant from the Moon.
The Clementine mission was launched on January 25, 1994, as part of a joint NASA-strategic defense initiative. Before spinning wildly out of control on 7 May 1994, it took this composite photo of Earth, as seen across the northern pole of the Moon.
But the farther out we send our spacecraft.
A combination of two photos (one of Earth and one of the Moon) taken by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft, which journeyed to Mercury, Venus, and the Moon after launching from a repurposed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
The more peculiar our home looks.
On its way to study Jupiter and its Moons, NASA's Galileo spacecraft got its second speed boost from Earth's gravity.
About a week after that maneuver it took this composite image from 3.9 million miles (6.3 million km) away. The Moon, which is about one-third as bright as Earth, is closer to the viewer in the foreground.
And the more lonely it seems.
NEAR Spacecraft Team/JHUAPL/NASA
Taken by: Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
NASA's asteroid-bound NEAR spacecraft took this two-part image of Earth and the Moon from about 250,000 miles (402,000 km). Antarctica is visible in the south pole.
NEAR eventually reached Asteroid 433 Eros, began orbiting the space rock, and deployed its Shoemaker lander spacecraft in 2001.
Most images don't accurately portray the distance between Earth and the Moon.
Most photos of Earth and the Moon are (artful) cut-and-paste composites, since they are so far away from one another.
However, this is the first photo of both worlds ever taken in a single frame, when Voyager 1 was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million km) away - en route to its 'grand tour' of the solar system.
Only by traveling hundreds of thousands or millions of miles away, then turning around, can we truly appreciate what the 239,000 miles (385,000 km) between two worlds actually looks like.
ESA/DLR/Freie Universität Berlin
Nearly 5 million miles from Earth and on its way to the Red Planet, the Mars Express spacecraft pointed back home and snapped this photo. The satellite has orbited Mars and photographed its surface in 3D since December 2003.
It is a vast and empty rift.
NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
This infrared photo, taken from 2.2 million miles (3.5 million km) away, reveals the vast distance between Earth and the Moon - 239,000 miles (385,000 km), or about 30 diameters of Earth stacked together. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft recorded the image on its way to the Red Planet.
Even when paired together, the Earth-Moon system looks insignificant from deep space.
The Earth and the Moon look infinitesimal from 6 million miles (9.6 million km) away in this Juno spacecraft photo, taken on 26 August 2011. Speed-boosting gravity assists are a popular time for adventurous spacecraft to photograph the Earth and its Moon.
NASA's Juno spacecraft took this shot (and many others, which were made into a fantastic animation) during its nearly five-year-long trip to Jupiter, where it is documenting the gas giant in ways scientists had previously only dreamed of.
From the surface of Mars, it could just be another 'moving star' in the night sky that puzzled early astronomers.
Taken by: Spirit Mars Exploration Rover
About 2 months after a textbook landing on Mars, the Spirit rover gazed up at the sky to look for Earth - and found it as a tiny dot. NASA says this "is the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the Moon".
In this shot, Earth is roughly 161 million miles (259 million km) away.
From Saturn, Earth seems to vanish in the brilliant glow of the gas giant's icy rings.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
NASA's nuclear-powered Cassini spacecraft took 165 different photos in the shadow of Saturn to make this backlit mosaic of the gas giant.
Almost by accident, Earth is hiding in the image, off to the left. Although it looks like a bright speck in Saturn's rings, the world is actually 928 million miles (1493 million km) away.
Billions of miles from Earth, as Carl Sagan famously quipped, our world is just a "pale blue dot", a small and solitary orb where all of our triumphs and tragedies play out.
This photo of Earth - the 'pale blue dot'- is just one frame of a 'solar system portrait' that Voyager 1 took at roughly 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) away from home.
Here's an abridged text of Sagan's speech about the image:
"We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. [. ]
To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Sagan's message is immutable: there is only one Earth, and so we must do everything in our power to protect it - and mostly from ourselves.
Japan's Moon-orbiting Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) spacecraft, also known as Kaguya, took this video of Earth rising above the Moon - sped up 1,000 percent - on the 40th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 8 'Earthrise' photo.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
They Saw Earth From Space. Here’s How It Changed Them.
The majesty of our planet can be difficult to describe. But these astronauts will try.
For the bulk of human history, it’s been impossible to put Earth in cosmic perspective.
Bound by gravity and biology, we can’t easily step outside it, above it, or away from it. For most of us, Earth is inescapably larger than life. Even now, after nearly six decades of human spaceflight, precious few people have rocketed into orbit and seen the sun peeking out from behind that curved horizon. Since 1961, a mere 556 people have had this rarefied experience. Fewer, just 24, have watched Earth shrink in the distance, growing smaller and smaller until it was no larger than the face of a wristwatch. And only six have been completely alone behind the far side of the moon, cut off from a view of our planet as they sailed in an endlessly deep, star-studded sea.
What Does Our Planet Look Like Once You've Seen It From Space? - Here's What Some Astronauts Have to Say
It’s an inherently unnatural thing, spaceflight. After all, our physiology evolved specifically to succeed on this planet, not above it. Perhaps that’s why it can be difficult for astronauts to describe the experience of seeing Earth from space.
Italian space traveler Luca Parmitano says that we haven’t yet developed the words to truly convey the realities of spaceflight. The building blocks of modern human communication, words are necessarily constrained by meaning and connotation, no matter which language you choose (Parmitano speaks five). And until the mid-20th century, there was no need to express what it means to see our planet in the fiercely primeval essence of space. “We just don’t think in terms of spaceflight,” he says.
Seeing Earth from space can change a person’s worldview. U.S. astronaut Nicole Stott flew twice on the space shuttle Discovery and returned with a new drive for creating artwork depicting the view. Canadian spacefarer Chris Hadfield says that while orbiting Earth, he felt more connected to the people on the planet than ever before.
Kathy Sullivan, who in 1984 became the first American woman to perform a space walk, returned with an abiding awe for the intricate systems that come together to make Earth an improbable oasis. “The thing that grew in me over these flights was a real motivation and desire … to not just enjoy these sights and take these pictures,” she says, “but to make it matter.”
After retiring from NASA, Sullivan led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for three years, using the robotic eyes of orbiting satellites to pursue her passion. She says Earth from above is so captivatingly beautiful, she never grew bored looking at it. “I’m not sure I’d want to be in the same room with someone who could get tired of that.”
Even when words fail us, a single picture of home from above can change the perspectives of millions of people. In 1968 the Apollo 8 crew became the first people to rocket far away from Earth and loop around the moon. On Christmas Eve, astronaut William Anders snapped what would become an unforgettable image: a lush world rising above the sterile, cratered lunar horizon. Now called “Earthrise,” the photograph boosted awareness of our planet’s beauty and fragility.
“Twenty eighteen is the 50-year anniversary of that iconic picture that helped define the environmental movement. What are the course corrections we need to do now that will help us get to the hundredth anniversary?” asks U.S. astronaut Leland Melvin. He’s working with a coalition of fellow space travelers to rethink how we balance ecological health and human needs. The project will use astronauts’ experiences to help others adopt more sustainable lifestyles.
Clearly, a desire to protect the planet is common among those who have left it. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has logged more cumulative days in space than anyone else. The allure of spaceflight kept him on the job for 28 years, but something even more powerful than gravity kept bringing him home.
“We are genetically connected to this planet,” he says. And to the best of our knowledge, Earth is unique in its ability to support life as we know it. The past decade of astronomy has shown us that we are one among billions of worlds in the Milky Way galaxy, but our tangled web of geology, ecology, and biology makes this strange rock the only one in reach that’s just right for humans.
The length of the frost-free season (and the corresponding growing season) has been increasing nationally since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western United States, affecting ecosystems and agriculture. Across the United States, the growing season is projected to continue to lengthen.
In a future in which heat-trapping gas emissions continue to grow, increases of a month or more in the lengths of the frost-free and growing seasons are projected across most of the U.S. by the end of the century, with slightly smaller increases in the northern Great Plains. The largest increases in the frost-free season (more than eight weeks) are projected for the western U.S., particularly in high elevation and coastal areas. The increases will be considerably smaller if heat-trapping gas emissions are reduced.
This NASA visualization presents observational evidence that the growing season (climatological spring) is occurring earlier in the Northern Hemisphere.
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Learn about the different names we have for a full moon!
Learn more about tremors on Earth—and other planets too!
Learn more about what happens when the moon passes between Earth and the sun!
It all has to do with the distance between Earth and the sun and Earth and the moon.
Learn more about this weather pattern!
Learn more about Earth's water in this video!
Make your own colorful aurora!
The heat that won’t keep you warm
Cool yourself with Earth’s hot interior
The active, changing layer
The planet with living things
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The answer may surprise you.
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Earthrise: The stunning photo that changed how we see our planet
The astronauts had spun around the moon a few times already, their gaze pointed down on the gray, pockmarked lunar surface. But now as they completed another orbit of the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, Frank Borman, the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, rolled the spacecraft, and, soon, there it was.
Earth, this bright, beautiful sphere, alone in the inky vastness of space, a soloist at the edge of the stage suspended in the spotlight.
“Oh, my God,” exclaimed Bill Anders, the lunar module pilot. “Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”
Anders knew black and white film wouldn’t do it justice. But he also knew he didn’t have a lot of time if he was going to get the shot.
“Hand me a roll of color quick, will you,” he said.
“Oh, man, that’s great,” said Jim Lovell, the command module pilot and navigator.
“Hurry,” Anders pleaded. “Quick!”
Anders loaded the color film into his Hasselblad camera and started firing away while his anxious crewmates remained transfixed by the blue and white vision outside their windows.
‘Behold the blue planet’
They splashed down in the Pacific on Dec. 27.
Two days later, the film was processed, and NASA released photo number 68-H-1401 to the public with a news release that said: “This view of the rising earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn.”
The press recognized immediately the power of the image, Earth, a brilliant oasis in a desert of darkness. The New York Times ran it on its front page above the fold. The Washington Post followed a day later. Life magazine ran a photo essay with a double-page spread of the image and lines from James Dickey, the former U.S. poet laureate.
“Behold/ The blue planet steeped in its dream/ Of reality.”
“Earthrise,” as it would be called, went viral, or as viral as anything could in 1968, a time that saw all sorts of photographs leave their mark on the national consciousness, most of them scars: The South Vietnamese general pointing his pistol at the soldier’s head, point blank the busboy tending to Robert F. Kennedy’s lifeless body the civil rights activists on the motel balcony pointing in the direction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s killer.
But “Earthrise” was something different. A balm for a nation torn by the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, protests and assassinations.
In the foreground, there was the “magnificent desolation” of the lunar surface, as Buzz Aldrin would later call it — a lifeless planet, devoid of color, juxtaposed with a distant cousin in the background, as radiant as spring, brilliant in blue and white.
There had been images of Earth shot from space before. But those images were mostly black and white and blurry. They lacked the vividness of Anders’s picture, the still simplicity, and the emotion that could perhaps be explained by the fact that the many of the previous photographs had been taken by robots and “Earthrise” by a human — “a thrilled, probably homesick astronaut with a finger on the trigger of this Hasselblad,” as Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, put it in an interview.
Brand had been seeking an image such as this, one that could galvanize the country and touch off a movement. He had led a campaign, asking, “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?”
And here came “Earthrise”: a photo at once perfect and humanly imperfect — the tilted horizon, Earth slightly off-center, a rare moment of imprecision during a mission that relied on exact measurements from its military-trained astronauts.
In the photo, Earth is an island with a geography both strange and familiar. There is Africa peeking out from under the clouds, but North is over to the right, not up, a world made topsy-turvy by the disorienting distance of 240,000 miles.
The United States had set off on this improbable journey to vanquish the Soviets, to claim the ultimate high ground and the national superiority that would come with it. In their flight suits and crew cuts and all-American probity, the astronauts were the arm of the nation’s might, a projection of power. They returned, of course, from the breach victorious — the first men ever to leave earth’s orbit and take a few laps around the moon.
Their triumph, celebrated in ticker tape, was to be measured in the fiery thrust of the Saturn V rocket propelling them deeper into space than anyone had gone before. But it was also found in the unexpected discovery captured in this simple photograph buried in the rolls of film they brought home — land masses without boundaries, the thin layer of the atmosphere, a unifying expression of vulnerability, something that as Pope Paul VI would say, recalled “the dumbfounding proportions of the universe in relation to our infinite smallness.”
Turns out the military pilots turned astronauts were artists as well.
“Earthrise” soon replaced another dominant image from the time, the mushroom cloud.
“Its iconic power went away, at least in representing modern times,” Brand said. “In the course of a couple years, you had a universal icon based on fear give way to a universal icon based on what people thought of as hope and excitement.”
“Earthrise” also helped fuel the environmental movement. Which was ironic since so many environmentalists in the 1960s were steadfastly against the Apollo program. Why spend all this money going to space when there are real problems here on Earth?
The first Earth Day was held some 16 months later, and today the image endures as a uniting symbol.
“As I looked down at the Earth, which is about the size of your fist at arm’s length, I’m thinking this is not a very big place. Why can’t we get along?” Anders said during a video played during a ceremony at Washington National Cathedral recently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the mission. “To me it was strange that we had worked and had come all the way to the moon to study the moon, and what we really discovered was the Earth.”
10 Need-to-Know Things About Our Home Planet
If the Sun were as tall as a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a nickel.
Earth orbits our Sun, a star. Earth is the third planet from the Sun at a distance of about 93 million miles (150 million km).
As the World Turns
A day on Earth is 24 hours. Earth makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Earth time) in about 365 days.
We're On It
Earth is a rocky planet with a solid and dynamic surface of mountains, canyons, plains and more. Most of our planet is covered in water.
Earth's atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and 1 percent other ingredients&mdashthe perfect balance to breathe and live.
Our Cosmic Companion
Many orbiting spacecraft study the Earth from above as a whole system&mdashobserving the atmosphere, ocean, glaciers, and the solid earth.
Home, Sweet Home
Earth is the perfect place for life as we know it.
Our atmosphere protects us from incoming meteoroids, most of which break up in our atmosphere before they can strike the surface.
- lasts a little under 24 hours. lasts 365.25 days. That 0.25 extra means every four years we need to add one day to our calendar. We call it a leap day (in a leap year).
- Earth has just one Moon. It is the only planet to have just one moon.
- Earth has lots of spacecraft watching it. There is still a lot we can learn about our home planet.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun in our solar system. That means Venus and Mars are Earth’s neighboring planets.
These Unsettling Images From NASA Show Just How Fast Earth Is Changing
We know that Earth is changing in dramatic ways on a daily basis, but sometimes you need a bird's eye view – or a satellite feed – to really appreciate the evolution of our planet.
That's exactly what you get with a new set of images recently released by NASA, showing dramatic shifts in forest sizes, water levels, and ice cover over the last 40 years.
Some of the pictures really are shocking, like the comparison below of Lake Urmia in Iran, showing its shrinking size and changing colours.
This distinct green/brown contrast took place over just a few months, and was caused by summer heat and growing populations of algae and bacteria:
Lake Urmia, Iran. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
"Some of these effects are related to climate change, some are not," says NASA. "Some document the effects of urbanisation or the ravage of natural hazards such as fires and floods. All show our planet in a state of flux."
Check out the shrinkage of the Great Salt Lake in Utah between 1985 and 2010, caused by reduced snowmelt and rainfall:
Great Salt Lake, Utah. Credit: US Department of the Interior/US Geological Survey
Or the reduction in size of Owens Lake, California, over the same time frame, prompted by diverted water and toxic chemicals:
Owens Lake, California. Credit: USGS Landsat Missions Gallery
Several of the images show how the spread of our towns and cities has impacted the natural landscape.
Take these shots of the Baban Rafi forest in Niger, showing huge chunks of forest disappearing between 1976 and 2007:
Baban Rafi forest. Credit: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Much of that forest was cleared to make way for farming land - the country's population increased by 40 percent across the same time period, according to NASA.
The effects of urbanisation can also be seen in these 1991 and 2016 pictures of New Delhi in India:
New Delhi, India. Credit: US Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA
In the space of those 25 years, the population grew from 9.4 million to 25 million people, and experts at the UN estimate that the Delhi territory could be home to around 36 million people by 2030.
Such rapid population rise brings with it a number of problems besides a lack of space. In November, the Indian government declared a state of national emergency, because air pollution had gotten so bad in the capital.
Further away from civilisation, the Greenland ice sheet is melting earlier than ever before, as these dramatic shots from 2014 and 2016 demonstrate:
Greenland ice sheet. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
Meltwater darkens the surface of the ice and causes even more melting as extra sunlight is absorbed.
Another pair of photos from Greenland show the shrinking size of the Helheim Glacier, as increasing air and ocean temperatures cause it to retreat back to its source and flow out to sea more quickly:
Helheim Glacier, Greenland. Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and the US/Japan ASTER Science Team
You don't need access to NASA satellites to take a peek at Earth's changing surface either, as a lot of imagery is available through Google Earth.
Its new Timelapse feature lets you browse through roughly 5 million pictures from 1984 to the present day.
It might be scary viewing at times, but it's important to know as much as we can about what's happening to our planet - because then we might actually be able to do something about it.
You can see all of NASA's Images of Change catalogue here, including interactive features to help you contrast before and after.