The Story Behind: The First Image of the Earth from Space

Image Source/White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory

Image Source/White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory

This article was originally published in May 2016.

When you think of the most iconic photograph of the earth, the first image that comes to mind is Blue Marble, shot in 1972, by the Apollo 17 crew. But 26 years before that, a group of scientists and soldiers at the New Mexico desert, launched a 35mm camera mounted on to a German V-2 missile, 65 miles into the air. The images that came back became the first ever pictures of the earth from space. Made on 24 October, 1946, the grainy image was a result of stitching together several frames, shot every second and a half by the 35mm camera. Considering that the prime aim of the mission was military, when the picture was viewed, not many were interested in the geography of the planet, but instead, more concerned about the performance of the missile in space. But Clyde Holliday, the engineer responsible for developing the camera, understood the gravity of the accomplishment.

In an interview with National Geographic, he spoke about how cameras, in the future, could be mounted on missiles to scout enemy territory and to map inaccessible areas. Later, between 1946 and 1950, more than 1000 images of the earth were photographed by V-2 missiles. However, nothing could compare to the initial elation felt by members of the crew at the desert range. In fact, one of them went on to say, “Do you realise what’s going on here?”

Tags: 1972, Apollo 17, Clyde Holliday, Earth