Not mounted on a stand, with color-coded state and national boundaries, as schoolroom globes are prone to display. Instead, we see our world as only a cosmic perspective can provide: blue oceans, dry land, white clouds, polar ice. A sun-lit planet, teeming with life, framed in darkness.
In 1972, when NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts first captured an entire hemisphere of our planet, we were treated to such a view. The Blue Marble, it was called. The Space Program’s unprecedented images of Earth compelled us all to think deeply about our dependence on nature and the fate of our civilization.
Of course, at the time, we had other distractions. Between 1968 and 1972, the United States would experience some of its most turbulent years in memory, simultaneously enduring a hot war in Southeast Asia, a Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Civil Rights Movement, campus unrest, and assassinations. Yet that’s precisely when we voyaged to the Moon, paused, looked back, and discovered Earth for the first time.
The year 1970 would celebrate the first Earth Day. In that same year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were formed with strong bipartisan support. In 1972, the pesticide DDT was banned and the Clean Water Act was passed. And one year later, the Endangered Species Act would be enacted, the catalytic converter would be introduced, and unleaded automotive emission standards would be set. A stunning admission that we’re all in this together, with a common future on a shared planet.
Regrettably, we still live in a turbulent world. But we now have at our disposal, not simply a photograph of our home to reflect upon, but continual data of our rotating planet, captured 13 times per day, by the robotic Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a specially designed space camera and telescope, launched and positioned a million miles from Earth.
We will now be able to measure and track sun-induced space weather as well as global climatic trends in ozone levels, aerosols, vegetation, volcanic ash, and Earth reflectivity, all in high resolution — just the kind of data our civilization needs to make informed cultural, political, and scientific decisions that affect our future.
Occasions such as this offer renewed confidence that we may ultimately become responsible shepherds of our own fate, and the fate of that fragile home we call Earth.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
American Museum of Natural History, New York City