Earth From Space

Earth From Space

On this day in 1946, the first image of Earth was taken from space. It was captured from a rocket at 65 miles/105 kilometers above the surface. The German V-2 rocket, which was recovered by American troops at the end of World War II, was launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, USA.

Sorrowfully, the V-2 rocket wreaked destructive havoc on cities in Europe during the war; but it was reconfigured with scientific instruments post-battle. One of these new exploratory devices was a 35 mm motion-picture camera set to snap one photo every second and a half. After completing its cinematic mission, the camera hurtled back to Earth, smashing to pieces as it slammed into the ground at 500 feet per second.

Credit: White Sands Missile Range / Applied Physics Laboratory

This historical image of our planet was developed from the film that dropped back to Earth with the camera, but safely in a sturdy steel canister, which thoroughly amuses me. Fun Fact: Fred Rulli, a 19-year old fella enlisted in the U.S. Army, was assigned to the recovery team that drove into the desert to retrieve the canister. When recalling the reactions of the scientists finding the canister in one piece, Rulli said, “They were ecstatic…they were jumping up and down like kids.”

More than 1,000 pictures of Earth were taken from V-2’s between 1946 and 1950, from altitudes as high as 100 miles/160 kilometers. In 1950, Clyde Holliday, the engineer who developed the camera, wrote in National Geographic that the stitched together V-2 photos showed for the first time “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a spaceship.”

Fun Fact: Previous images of Earth were taken from a vantage point of only 13 miles/22 kilometers above ground thanks to the high-altitude balloon Explorer II, which was launched on November 11, 1935 and carried a two-man crew inside a sealed, spherical cabin.

I don’t know about you, but I’m blown away by our sheer ambition and courage for space exploration!

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