Close your eyes and picture what the Earth looks like. You’re probably picturing a circle, mostly blue thanks to the ocean, with swirls of clouds and the occasional green and brown land mass. The entire sphere is floating in a mass of impossible black. You’re picturing Earth in a way that you’ve never actually seen with your own two eyes. Maybe you’re getting the sketch from this famous shot, below, known as the blue marble image. Astronauts aboard the Apollo 17 space mission snapped the picture on December 7th, 1972. Countless other images of our home planet have been taken, which have forever shaped our imagination of it. Still, only a handful of humans have seen it with naked eyes.
Almost without exception, those humans (mostly astronauts), say the experience of seeing the Earth from outer space profoundly changes who they are as a person. It makes the Earth feel more precious, they say, our human grievances seem pettier, and the environmental damages we are causing to the planet, graver. Today is World Environment Day, or what the United Nation’s calls the “people’s day” for doing something to take care of the Earth. But in order for us to take care of the Earth, we first have to remember why the Earth matters. And what better way to do so than a gallery of stunning images of the Earth from the outside combined with words that encapsulate the perspective of those who have had the fortune to see the planet first hand from this unique perspective. Enjoy.
As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.
Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty—but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.
The scenery was very beautiful. But I did not see the Great Wall.
The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.
The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way—the way God intended it to be—by giving everybody that new perspective from out in space.
When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change. You look down there and you can’t imagine how many borders and boundaries you cross, again and again and again, and you don’t even see them. There you are — hundreds of people in the Mideast killing each other over some imaginary line that you’re not even aware of, and that you can’t see.
The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.
We have this connection to Earth. I mean, it’s our home. And I don’t know how you can come back and not, in some way, be changed. It may be subtle. You see differences in different people in their general response when they come back from space. But I think, collectively, everybody has that emblazoned on their memories, the way the planet looks. You can’t take that lightly.
It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’