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Earth: Frighteningly Finite


In 1966, environmental activist Stewart Brand began a campaign for NASA to capture all of Earth in one photograph and then release it to the public. He made buttons that said, “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the Whole Earth yet?” He sold them on college campuses and mailed them to public figures.

In 1972, he got his wish.

Earth from Apollo 17. NASA Image #AS17-148-22727

The Whole Earth disk prompted a perspective shift. When you’re standing on this planet it appears endless, with unlimited bounty and space. Certainly, people have operated under this assumption throughout most of history.

But when you see what Earth looks like from space, you reevaluate. The Earth is limitless, but tiny and fragile. And the universe is a cold, indifferent place.

This important new paradigm is one of the many boons brought by space travel. I’ve remarked on this before, when I posted this photo, tweeted from the International Space Station by astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock:

We’re sure using a lot of it, aren’t we?

The video below, time lapse footage of an orbit around the Earth, is one of the most breathtaking things I’ve ever seen:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Erickson permalink
    10/28/2011 9:46 PM

    The night-time shots are always the most impressive, and also worrying, to me. They show how much of the planet we’ve used, and also the grave inequality between the brilliantly lit North American and European continents, and the dim African and SE Asian lands.
    It also brings about the memory of the episode of “Cosmos” called, I believe, “Who Speaks For Earth?”. Dr. Sagan flies through space in his “spaceship of the imagination”, finds a world with the dark side all lit up, then watches in mute horror as brilliant flashes knock the lights out.
    For a child of the Cold War, it’s a more terrifying sight than any horror movie I’ve ever seen.

  2. 11/04/2011 12:48 AM

    That does sound powerful. *makes mental note to check out*

    I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in the Cold War–from what I’ve heard, the fear must have been almost palpable. That said, I feel like we have more to be apprehensive about nowadays (including nukes–they haven’t gone anywhere), but everyone seems to just sort of ignore it.

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