Earth, as Seen from Space

by Chris Mather

In honor of PBS’s new special “Humanity from Space“, we take a look at the defining photographs that have captured Earth from space over the years.

When we first sent rockets into space, our sights were set almost exclusively on celestial bodies other than our own.

But what happened when we first turned the lens back to Earth? For those inclined to wax philosophical, one might say it was a shift in global consciousness.

 

Earthrise

Take this photograph, for instance:

Photographed in 1968 from the Apollo 8 lunar orbiter

Photographed in 1968 from the Apollo 8 lunar orbiter

Captured by astronaut William Anders in 1968 from aboard the Apollo 8 lunar orbiter as it emerged from the back side of the Moon, the image documents the first time human eyes witnessed an “Earthrise”. Transmitted back to Earth, we saw our planet for what it really is: fragile, contained, a beacon of life against a backdrop of deep and vast nothingness.

Some credit the image for single-handedly launching the environmental movement.

A similar phenomenon was captured two years earlier by a robotic spacecraft called Lunar Orbiter 1.

Shot from Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966

Shot from Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966

Later, in 2008, the Japanese lunar explorer Kaguya captured an Earthrise in HD video.

 

The Blue Marble

Captured from Apollo 17 as it traveled towards the Moon

Captured from Apollo 17 as it traveled towards the Moon

This image of Earth was snapped from aboard Apollo 17 in 1972. What distinguishes “The Blue Marble” — aside from its startling beauty — is that it is one of the few photographs in existence that shows a near-fully lit Earth disk.

As with Earthrise, a similar image was captured five years earlier by a robotic orbiter: a weather satellite took the below picture in 1967.

Shot from a weather satellite, this shows the first fully lit, full disk view of Earth from space

Shot from a weather satellite, this shows the first fully lit, full disk view of Earth from space

 

Pale Blue Dot

As Voyager 1 traveled into the outer reaches of our Solar System, it turned around and photographed Earth

As Voyager 1 traveled into the outer reaches of our Solar System, it turned around and photographed Earth

In 1990, as the Voyager 1 probe hurtled towards its current location in the outer reaches of our Solar System, NASA instructed it to turn around and take one final picture of its origin: Earth. Seen here, our planet doesn’t even fill a pixel. Where previous images of Earth identified it as just one among other celestial bodies, this image identifies it as just a blip.

The image famously inspired these words from astronomer Carl Sagan (who also requested that NASA capture the image).

Consider again 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.

Listen to the full audio here.

Humanity from Space premieres Tuesday July 21 at 8:00 p.m. on Thirteen.