The Whole Earth: NASA’s Blue Marble Photograph Fifty Years On

World-renowned climate scientists, astronomers and representatives from the United States’ foremost space research facility will gather at the University of Portsmouth for a public event devoted to NASA’s iconic ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth. Star & Crescent reporters tell us more.

It’s one of the most famous photographs of all time and it turns fifty years old this week. From Wednesday 7 to Friday 9 of December, the university will host a series of free public talks, workshops, artist talks and screenings that revisit its impact and enduring legacy.

More than just a spectacular view of Earth from Space, the Blue Marble has become an icon of the environmental movement and a symbol of our planet’s beauty and fragility. The
photograph was captured by astronauts on NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. At a time of urgent discussion on the climate crisis and environmental catastrophe, the photograph remains a powerful symbol and the subject of much discussion and debate.

The event’s organiser, Dr Olly Gruner, a Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture at the University of Portsmouth, described the Blue Marble as ‘a launch-pad from which to reflect on so many
of the issues bedevilling our times: the climate crisis, the ethics of space travel, global interconnectedness, political conflicts and our place in the universe.’

The events feature talks from curators at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C., historians, scientists and artists from across the world. The Blue Marble’s impact has
been wide-ranging, with experts from various disciplines interested in its representation.

Professor Claudia Maraston, a who works at the university’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation and whose research into theoretical astrophysics won the prestigious Eddington
Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: ‘I study distant galaxies, there are billions of billions of them in the Universe, they look spectacular. But, nothing compares to the
perfectness of our planet Earth, the colours, the ice layers, the fluffy clouds, the oceans. When I watch the Blue Marble I see home, I see life, it’s our sphere of beauty.’ Professor Maraston will be speaking on Wednesday 7 December.

With NASA launching its latest space program, Artemis, in November this year, images of the Earth seen from space have enjoyed renewed attention, not least for what Artemis’s
new photographs may tell us about the Earth’s changing climate. Dr Nick Pepin, a Reader in Climate Science at the university and leading researcher of climate change, who will be
speaking on Friday 9 December, said that: ‘the 50th anniversary of this iconic image allows us to take stock of the changes which have taken place on the Earth’s surface and in the
atmosphere in the intervening period, not least the increasing human footprint which is influencing global climate change, the most important environmental issue of our time.’

The Whole Earth: NASA’s Blue Marble Photograph Fifty Years On runs at the University of Portsmouth from Wednesday 7-Friday 9 December, 2022. For more information and to
reserve free tickets visit the website here. The events are funded by the US Embassy, London and the British Association for American Studies.

Image ‘Blue Marble’ has been reproduced under a Creative Commons licence (rights free credit to NASA, 1972).