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50 years ago, humans took the first full photo of Earth from space – the climate crisis means it’s time for another
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50 years ago, humans took the first full photo of Earth from space – the climate crisis means it’s time for another


“Everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see this.” These were the first words of 90-year-old William Shatner as he emerged, shaking with emotion, from a brief ride into space – where the former Star Trek actor had spent barely four minutes – aboard a Blue Origin rocket on October 13 2021.

“This air that is keeping us alive,” he said:

It’s thinner than your skin … We think, ‘Oh, that’s blue sky’, and then suddenly you shoot through it all, as though you whip a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you’re looking into blackness … it’s so thin, and you’re through it in an instant!

As space travellers like Shatner have witnessed, our planet’s atmosphere seems as thin as the skin of an applerelative to the Earth. It is not infinite, but we can alter its composition with emission as easily as possible. polluteOceans and vast lakes.

Yet many news reports covering Shatner’s journey neglected to mention his comments on the fragility of the Earth’s atmosphere: comments that could easily have been intended for delegates arriving at the UN climate change conference COP26Glasgow.

Shatner’s voyage was made possible by Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company Blue Origin, founded in 2000, and has understandably been subject to criticism. Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon e-commerce giant, may have achieved his astronomical success through destroying the cultural and economic infrastructure of local areas around the globe. condemnedFor spending billionsInstead of improving the environment on Earth, space tourism is a way to expand.

The manned space programmeThe 1960s and 1970s were also competitively ruled by Russia and the US. criticisedIt was a waste and a waste. It did however yield one unexpected benefit: the first ever view of Earth from space in all its magnificent isolation.

Christmas 1968: The crew of Apollo 8As they flew around the Moon, they were the first to photograph and see the entire planet. From a quarter of a million miles away, the Earth’s unique beauty and vulnerability became apparent like never before.

The Earth as seen from the moon
This photo of Earth, as seen rising above the lunar surface, was taken on Christmas Eve 1968 by the Apollo 8 crew.
William Anders/NASA. CC BY-SA

Bill Anders, astronaut on the trip, took an unscheduled picture of the Earth partly under shadow, with the Moon in the foreground. The moon’s bone-dead colours contrasted directly with the vibrantly-coloured, fertile Earth.

The photo, known colloquially as “Earthrise”, was later described by photographer Galen Rowell as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”. Anders lived to be 92 years old. reflected on his experience: “We came all this way to the moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet.”


The Earth became fully visible in 1969, and the rapid growth of the environmental movement was sparked by the creation of the environmental charity Friends of the Earth. UN Earth SummitIn Stockholm, 1972. Commentator John Caffrey wrote in 1970 that “the greatest lasting benefit of the Apollo missions may be this sudden rush of inspiration to try to save this fragile environment – if we still can.”

The final Apollo mission was completed in December 1972 (Apollo 17) captured possibly an even more famous image of the Earth, lit by the Sun at a distance of 28,000 miles: known as the “Blue Marble” photo.

Unlike Earthrise’s depiction of a half-shaded planet taken from the north, this photo showed the whole Earth from the south, including the first view of Antarctica. This photograph of a watery planet, with Madagascar as its center, was intended to be a photographic manifesto in support of global equality. Humankind was able to see Mother Earth through the lens of a human eye. This image has been viewed by many as one of the most iconic images in human history. most reproducedPictures from all times

A flag with the whole Earth against a blue background
The symbol of environmental activism is the image of the entire Earth from space.
Street Protest TV/Wikimedia. CC BY

The vast majority of people cannot travel to space to witness this incredible sight in person. Since 1972, no human has left Earth’s orbit or seen the whole Earth, and very few ever will.

Groups such as the Overview InstituteThe Center for Planetary IdentityThey have since devised imaginative strategies to spread the environmental consciousness by looking at the Earth distantly to the wider public, including the use virtual reality. I offer a modest proposal as a historian, and as an environmentalist.

A new blue marble

Next year, 50 years will have passed since the Blue Marble photo: I think it’s time to take another. The Earth will be in the same position relative to the sun in December 2022 as it was in 1972. This will allow a probe to take a photo of the entire Earth from the same distance as before. It is a great opportunity to revisit one of the most valuable achievements of the space age.

However impressive imagesSatellites have since captured the entire planet from satellites. However, they offer a different perspective than the original image. Most composites are composites made from multiple frames to show a globe in ideal weather.

Although this image will still be beautiful, the planet it captures won’t be the same. Deserts like this SaharaThe scope of the project will be expanded. CloudSystems will have changed. Antarctic ice will have receded, and less greenIt will be obvious. These two Blue Marbles, which are half a century apart, will bring home the devastating effects of climate change instantly and globally.

So, space billionaires: if you truly care about protecting our planet, let’s have the ultimate Earthshot.

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