While its name was also given by NASA to the 2012 composite image of high-resolution image data sets, the “Blue Marble” will always be attributed to that iconic photograph of the Earth from outer space, taken by three astronauts in 1972.
For those who are old enough to remember, one look at the breath-taking view of Earth from outer space and they’ll know right away that it’s the photo taken during the Apollo 17 lunar landing mission launched on December 7, 1972, the last manned voyage to the Moon.
The photo was taken at 5:39 a.m. EST, 5 hours and 6 minutes after the Apollo 17 spacecraft was launched, and almost 2 hours after it left its parking orbit around the Earth to start its journey towards the Moon. It was the perfect time for the Earth’s portrait session with the Apollo 17 crew — Eugene Cerman, Ronald Evans, and Jack Schmitt — as the Sun was behind the astronauts when they took the iconic photo. It was given the official NASA designation of AS17-148-22727, but the world came to know it as “The Blue Marble” for its resemblance to a glass marble.
While NASA officially credits the whole Apollo 17 crew for taking the photo (as all of them took photos using the 70mm Hasselblad camera with 80mm lens during the mission), and the actual photographer remains unidentified, some have conducted investigations and say that that the man behind the powerful photograph was most likely Schmitt.
“The Blue Marble” holds the distinction of being the first photograph of the whole Earth (the Earthrise, taken four years prior, was the first impressive photo of the Earth from outer space but showed only a partial view of our home planet), and the only one taken by a human. Come to think of it, as The Atlantic has pointed out, of the 24 humans who made it that far away from home, only the last three were able to see a full Earth and only one was able to photograph it.
The breath-taking photograph became an instant sensation as soon as it was unveiled to humanity, making it to the front page of almost every newspaper around the world. The Blue Marble, NASA archivist Mike Gentry has speculated, became “the most widely distributed image in human history.”
Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.