Earth – yesterday, today, tomorrow – your views?


This image was taken in 1966 and it was the first that showed our lovely little planet from such a deep vantage point. Now it’s been restored and the data thus gathered aactually will help in planning future moon missions. Interesting. But I’m more excited about how the image impacted us in 1966, about how we feel about it when we look at it today, and about where such perspectives might point.

The picture was an eye and mind opener in 1966 and I think it still is. What gives me pause to ponder it is this simple fact drawn from a New York Times editorial today: The Earth we see here held half the number of humans the same planet does today. In 42 years so manymor epeople, more and newer technology, different politics – what was that old world like? What has changed?

What’s that mean to you? What does the image say to you? What do you see in your mind’s eye when you look at the Earth of 1966? Your comments are welcome. USe the form below.

I’m not impressed with the NASA details – I’m more interested in pondering what sort of a self-portrait this presents – but for the record, NASA supplies this information about the new – and improved – version of this photo ina release last week:

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — NASA released a newly restored 42-year-old image of Earth on Thursday. The Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft took the iconic photograph of Earth rising above the lunar surface in 1966. Using refurbished machinery and modern digital technology, NASA produced the image at a much higher resolution than was possible when it was originally taken. The data may help the next generation of explorers as NASA prepares to return to the moon.

In the late 1960s, NASA sent five Lunar Orbiter missions to photograph the surface of the moon and gain a better understanding of the lunar environment in advance of the Apollo program. Data were recorded on large magnetic tapes and transferred to photographic film for scientific analysis. When these images were first retrieved from lunar orbit, only a portion of their true resolution was available because of the limited technology available.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, located at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., is taking analog data from original recorders used to store on tape and 1,500 of the original tapes, converting the data into digital form, and reconstructing the images. The restored image released Thursday confirms data from the original tapes can be retrieved from the newly-restored tape drives from the 1960s when combined with software from 2008. . .

Future images will be made publically available when they are fully processed and calibrated. The intent of this project is to facilitate, wherever possible, the broadest dissemination and public use of these images. . .


3 Responses

  1. To me, the picture along with the comment from the New York Times is an alarming wake up call. 3 billion people then and over 6 billion now! We need to do something to stop this exponential growth. The biosphere of our Earth can not support much more! I think our government should put a cap on families of two kids max. China already does it. Also I am for abortion. It’s either do things like this now, or mankind will suffer the fate of bacteria in a wine vat! See: It’s the lesser of two evils!

  2. A first look at one-self, as seeing one’s toes for the first time.

    It is a first sign of our insignificance in relationship to the vastness of the universe, but therefore also a narrative implication of our import, because until now, no other lifeform has yet been found anywhere in the universe. This image may also be the last moment of innocence, because the Mars researchers stand at the door that will usher in dramatic changes to our singularity. Instead of larger inflated egos, we will be made more humble.

    We have become very jaded, taking all of this in stride, and now also for granted. We have forgotten that although computers were used for number crunching, they were also assembling data to draw with great cumbersome efforts the images for which probes, like the lunar orbiter, caught and assembled the data. (This could be one of the first digital images, ever, ushering in a look of the universe that cannot be perceived by the eye – too distant, too tiny, too overwhelmed by visual noise, and the human optical system too inadequate). However, the many clues that Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and Kepler recorded in visual form, still shape the imagination that must draw the invisible.

    Most people, including me, if I had not read the caption, would have believed the picture to be a traditional emulsion-based visual recording of the relationship between moon and earth, having gotten used to many of the more glamorous full color images that NASA published, like the “Blue Marble”, and many of the other images that were displayed around that time, like in the “Moon” exhibition at MIT Hayden Gallery. Most of them were not digital.

    One of my favorite quotes, during that time, came from a Native American woman, who said, after she heard that men had landed on the moon, that this was just a fable, because “the Moon would not allow such an insult.” I wished I had kept the news-clipping from which the statement came.

  3. In 1966 all I could afford was an analog computer to do calculations. Digital computers were in their infancy, and very expensive. My analog computer was made in Japan, and cost a dollar. The Japanese, masters of miniaturisation, had compressed large computing power into a little space.

    Every morning when I sat down at my desk, I opened the top drawer and brought out my analog computer. Unlike bulky digital computers, my machine was neat and small. Its size, however, was a disadvantage sometimes. My desktop was usually cluttered with open folders, and in this mess, my analog computer easily merged itself with papers, and got itself filed away! When I next wanted to do calculations, I would search madly amid the muddle, much to the amusement of my colleagues.

    The best feature of my machine was that I understood how it worked. I entered numbers, did manipulations, and the answer appeared. The accuracy of the answer depended on the computer’s external operating system: my eyes and brain.

    Yes, I miss my slide rule today. It was about 6” inches long, made of bamboo and plastic, a little work of Japanese art. For some computations, I used my German Aristo slide rule that was about 14” long, and boasted a log-log scale. The Aristo was my German big gun, but I preferred my Japanese pistol!

    NASA’s 1966 photo of earth from the moon signified for me that the age of the slide rule was quietly ending. By the early 70s, hand held electronic calculators made their appearance. Then, as technology made the calculators smaller, they invaded schools, and weaned students away from the healthy mental exercise of extracting square roots and adding columns of figures.

    Compared to the school leavers of 1966, today’s school leavers are innumerate. Few can confidently add figures with pencil and paper, and fewer mentally. Our education system has surrendered to machines the highest of human powers. The next generation may regret the surrender.

    The danger was brilliantly assessed by social prophet Arthur C Clarke and cinematographer Stanley Kubrick in “2001, a Space Odyssey. ” HAL, the emotionless computer, quietly takes over command of the spacecraft. Is that happening, on a much bigger scale, with Planet Earth today?

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