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The Blue Marble Shot: Our First Complete Photograph of Earth

The Blue Marble Shot: Our First Complete Photograph of Earth

By Al Reinert

Apr 12 2011, 10:49 AM ET 1

The incredible story behind an image we've all seen hundreds of times, possibly the most reproduced photograph in history


It's an iconic image we have all seen hundreds of times, possibly thousands, and probably the most widely reproduced photograph in history. Because it's in the public domain it has been used for everything from car commercials to the Earth Day flag, printed on T-shirts, postage stamps, billboards, book covers, mouse pads -- most any surface you can print on. It even has its own Facebook page. In the NASA archive its formal designation is AS17-148-22727 but it's commonly known as The Blue Marble Shot, and forty years later we still aren't sure who actually took it.


It was the first photograph taken of the whole round Earth and the only one ever snapped by a human being. You can't see the Earth as a globe unless you get at least twenty thousand miles away from it, and only 24 humans ever went that far into outer space. They were the three-man crews of the nine Apollo missions that traveled to the moon between 1968 and 1972, six of which landed there successfully (three men went twice). But only the last three saw a full Earth.

In order to see our planet as a fully illuminated globe you need to pass through a point between it and the sun, which is a narrower window than you might think if you're traveling at 20,000 miles an hour. Most of the men who flew lunar missions saw neither a full Earth nor a full moon; both heavenly bodies were partly in shadow -- complementary shadows, like lovers walking past a streetlamp -- the entire flight. Their trajectories were determined by the landing sites they were scouting or targeting, and those were mainly on the eastern face of the moon as seen from Earth.

If you were at the controls of a spacecraft attempting to land on the moon you wanted the sun behind you at an angle between seven and twelve degrees above the horizon, so it cast long shadows from boulders you might not see otherwise. This means that you were aimed at a crescent moon when you launched from Earth three days before. The first landing on Apollo 11, for instance, blasted off toward a new quarter-moon and the crew saw no more than a three-quarter Earth.

It wasn't until the last Apollo mission that NASA targeted a landing site on the far western face of the moon: the rumpled Valley of Taurus Littrow, which earthly geologists thought might be the least disturbed and thus primordial of the possible landing sites. This meant launching toward a nearly full moon, which in turn meant departing from Florida at night. It was the only night launch of the mighty Saturn V, the most stupendous rocket ever built, and took place on December 7, 1972.


The three men atop the rocket were Eugene Cernan, the Commander of Apollo 17; Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the Lunar Module Pilot who would accompany Cernan down to the surface if all went well; and Ron Evans, the Command Module Pilot who would remain in lunar orbit, keeping their return ship running while his crewmates did the glamorous exploring. All three have claimed that they took the famous Blue Marble Shot.


Please click HERE to read the entire article

Unfortunately, the credit of who took this iconic photo is in dispute, but we thought it would be of interest to others to read about the events of the day when it was shot, and the ensuing controversy. And - it's great to see the picture again...Urantia - the "sentimental shrine of Nebadon"

Link to External Source Article

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