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Earth from space: having a sense of perspective



Forty-five years after one of Earth's most iconic photographs was taken from space, what lessons can be learned about the future of the planet? Michael Alexander reports.

On December 7, 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 – the last manned mission to the Moon – turned its camera to Earth and took a picture of our home planet that became one of the most reproduced images in the human history

The photograph, dubbed The Blue Marble, was taken from NASA's spacecraft five hours and six minutes after launch when it was 29,000 kilometers (18,000 miles) from home.

Extending from the Mediterranean Sea to Antarctica, it was the first time that the trajectory of the Apollo made possible the photo of the South Pole ice cap with the entire coastal line of Africa clearly visible and the Asian continent on the horizon to the northeast

It was not the first or the last time that the astronauts took dramatic images that showed the humiliating fragility of the Earth in the infinite blackness of space.

The first time humans really saw themselves from a distance was Christmas Eve 1968 when Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders took a photo called Earthrise & # 39; that showed & # 39; Spaceship Earth & # 39; rising above the moon.

© NASA
Earthrise taken by the crew of Apollo 7 since they came from the dark side of the Moon in 1968

The image had such a profound impact that it was credited with launching the global environmental movement.

Another of the deepest images on Earth, known as the "pale blue spot", was photographed on February 14, 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a record distance of six billion kilometers (3,700 million kilometers). miles).

In the photograph, the apparent size of the Earth is less than one pixel; the planet appears as a small point against the immensity of space between the bands of sunlight scattered by the lens of the camera.

© NASA
The Voyager space probe took the image of the Pale Blue Point as it looked towards Earth in 1990 before leaving the solar system

Then, at a time when our collective existence is threatened by change climate change, deforestation, pollution, loss of biodiversity and explosive population growth. What can these humble, beautiful and inspiring images teach us?

Former space shuttle pilot of NASA Lieutenant Colonel Duane & # 39; Digger & # 39; Carey, who recently visited Fife, was the human 410 th who once entered space when he piloted Columbia on the fourth service mission of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

Orbiting the Earth 165 times and covering 3.9 million miles in more than 262 hours, I did not have much time to look out the window, but I was "fundamentally influenced" to see the Earth from space.

© DC Thomson
Former NASA astronaut Duane Digger Carey visited Auchmuty High School, Glenrothes, in 2015 before a talk at St Andrews University. He is seen talking to Hazel Barlow of Auchmuty.

He told The Courier: "I think experienced astronauts are more aware of things like environmental awareness and the perspective that Earth is not as big, as permissive, as unlimited as we think it is. really small.

"Looking at the Earth is beautiful. But I think the real appreciation is when you look the other way. "When you look into space and say 'wow there is nothing beyond radiation and emptiness'

" Everything that can protect us is there on this planet. It makes you develop these contrite ideas that hey, we're all in this together. Let's get ahead, let's work, let's talk until the cows arrive home. Let's not hurt each other and shoot each other and do this kind of thing. "

© DC Thomson
Executive Director of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, executive director of Royal Scottish, with Based at the Perth Geographical Society, he said that the famous image of Blue Marble offered a sense of "human insignificance on a large scale" in the same way that mountains, seas and rough nature on earth do.

: "It reminded me of one of our speakers, the British astronaut Piers Sellers, who people take with him – the pilot on one of his shuttle missions was more concerned with flying a spaceship than enjoying the seen through the window, so this sense of amazement does not affect everyone.

"However, for those concerned about humanity and the natural world it was a wake-up call to the fragility and isolation of planet earth in space, and a reminder of the need to protect it, spawning much of our time environmental concern

"I do not think we have been truly sustainable as a species and 45 years later we still have a lot to learn and enact"

© NASA
& # 39; The Blue Marble & # 39; Earth taken by the crew of Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972

Gina Hanrahan, Acting Head of Policy at WWF Scotland, said: "Blue Marble is one of the most iconic images of all time and was a powerful catalyst for the birth of the environmental movement almost five decades ago

"Although we have made enormous progress in many environmental issues during those years, the WWF Living Planet index shows an alarming per biodiversity more than half since 1970, which will only accelerate. for a world that warms up.

"Climate change is already affecting nature, people and places on all continents and in all the oceans of the Earth." The kind of images that are already motivating new generations to care about the environment You can find much closer to home. "

© DC Thomson
Warnings have increased on the levels of air pollution.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The image of Blue Marble allowed us to leave ourselves and our immediate surroundings, giving us a global perspective in the true sense of the word."

It made visible the finite, closed nature of the system in which we live and how our behavior should better reflect those limits.

"This image upset a whole generation of people to the importance of protecting our fragile planet and many of today's environmental groups owe their early growth to the new perspective created."

© Supplied
plastic are a major source of pollution of the beach

Greenpeace activist and media chief Ben Stewart added: "The famous summary ef The fact has led many astronauts to appreciate the beauty and fragility of the Earth in a way who has changed their perception of who we are.

"By taking pictures, they allowed us to feel a little of what they felt.

"Earthrise photography in 1968 is sometimes credited with the launch of the modern environmental movement and Blue Marble had a similar cultural impact.

" I think looking back on our only home we are disappointed in the idea that humanity is somehow bigger than Earth itself "


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