NASA's Magnificent and Iconic 'Blue Marble' Photograph Turns 50

The famous photo is credited to the crew of Apollo 17, with no one astronaut taking credit.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read

It's one of the most iconic photos even taken, and although it's of an object we all see, it's not like any one of us can just go out and replicate it. The NASA photograph known as the "Blue Marble" turned 50 on Wednesday, and it's still as stunning as it was in 1972.

NASA tweeted the photo to celebrate its golden anniversary, writing, "As NASA Orion continues its journey home, we're also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic 'Blue Marble' photo of Earth, taken on Dec. 7, 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17."

It's notable that the entire Apollo 17 crew was credited with the photo, rather than just one person. The Apollo 17 crew consisted of Mission Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt. Cernan and Schmitt descended in the lunar module to explore the moon, while Evans remained with the command and service modules in lunar orbit.

"When asked which individual should take credit for clicking the shutter, the astronauts demurred," CNN reports, though intriguing research dug into the question of which person actually took it. 

The photograph shows Earth from the Mediterranean Sea to Antarctica, and was the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. A storm known as Cyclone Sixteen, which brought flooding to part of India, can be seen in the upper right of the image.

"Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere," NASA says in a statement. "Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is the Malagasy Republic. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast."

The photo was snapped at 5:39 a.m. ET, five hours and six minutes after launch of the mission. It was taken 31 years to the day after another historic Dec. 7 event, the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II.

"What is the real meaning of seeing this picture?" Cernan said in 2007. "It's going to be ... 50 or 100 years in the history of mankind before we look back and really understand the meaning of Apollo. It's almost as if JFK reached out into the 21st century where we are today, grabbed hold of a decade of time, slipped it neatly into the 1960s and 1970s (and) called it Apollo."

Apollo 17 was the last mission of NASA's Apollo program. The astronauts returned to Earth on Dec. 19, 1972, after setting the record for the longest crewed lunar landing mission, at 12 days, 14 hours.

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