This image, called the Blue Marble, was captured in December 1972, by the crew of Apollo 17. Since this was the final manned mission to the moon, this is the last time humans have ever been far enough from Earth to capture such an image. They were 28,000 miles from home (heading to the moon, 240,000 miles out). It’s also notable as being one of the few images we have to show the entire face of Earth fully illuminated, since the Apollo module was heading almost directly towards the sun.
This image contributed to the dawn of the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day was held just two years earlier, and many Americans were beginning to grasp Earth’s frailty, vulnerability, and isolation in space. It helped instill the motivation for early environmental activists to protect the Earth; to save the planet from the people on the planet.
It’s interesting to note though.. from this distance, there are no people. Even after traveling only a few hours away, there’s no sign that this planet is inhabited by intelligent life. I’ve often felt that humans grow on the Earth like lichen grows on a rock, but it’s actually not even that severe. We are the very thinnest film of organic material growing across the surface of a lonely rocky world. Despite all our accomplishments and self-appointed grandiose, in the grand scheme of the Universe, we are inconsequential. We have learned that we can have very big impacts on the planet, such as our annoying tendency to release chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, and other chemicals into the air, but we aren’t so grand as to even be visible from a mere 28,000 miles.
This Blue Marble image is one of the most famous photographs ever created by humans. It’s been influential in shaping our understanding of our home. It’s inspiring.
It was also on a poster hanging on my bedroom wall for nearly my entire childhood.