1918 - Wladyslaw T Benda‘s image published in March 1918 shows a war-weary Earth. It accompanied an article in Cosmopolitan entitled The Future of the Earth. Its author, Maurice Maeterlinck, wrote: “It is well, sometimes, to tell ourselves, especially in these days of distress and discouragement, that we are living in a world which has not yet exhausted its future and which is much nearer to its beginning than to its end.”
On 24 October 1946, not long after the end of World War II, a group of soldiers and scientists in the New Mexico desert were the first human beings to see pictures of Earth as seen from space. The low resolution black-and-white images were taken by a motion picture camera strapped to a V-2 rocket fired to an altitude of 65 miles above the Earth’s surface. The missile was destroyed when it fell back to Earth, but the film, protected in a steel cassette, was successfully retrieved.
This first crude television image of Earth as a distinct body in space was made by a Soviet weather satellite on 30 May 1966.
On 23 August 1966, just as Lunar Orbiter 1 was about to pass behind the Moon, mission controllers pointed the camera away from the lunar surface and toward Earth. The result was the world’s first view of Earth from space.
Earthrise, the first colour image of our planet taken by humans from lunar orbit, did more than simply give us a view of our planet – it changed our perception of it, and its fragile place in the cosmos. Captured on Christmas Eve 1968 by the crew of Apollo 8, it was said that ‘they went to the Moon, but ended up discovering the Earth’.
This fragility was later underlined by our final image of Earth, taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 probe as it was departing the Solar System. From a record distance of 3.7 billion miles, Earth (in the centre of the image) appears as a fraction of a pixel against the vastness of space. NASA’s command to Voyager 1 to turn its back towards home for a final time was requested by the great American astronomer Carl Sagan, who said of the “pale blue dot”: