Critical Planetary Gazing

The ‘Blue Marble’ image has undergone several iterations since the first photograph taken in December 1972 by the Apollo 17 NASA crew with a 70 millimetre Hassleblad camera.

Newer Blue Marbles are generated digital images, assembled with data from different satellites – a hybrid achievement of “science, engineering and artistry.”

Blue Marble, 2000, NASA.

In this new ‘Blue Marble’ the goal is to replicate the “visceral impact” of viewing Earth from space, undertaken through exaggerated colours and topographic relief.

The moon has also been pulled from its natural orbit and timeline. Time travelling from 1994 to photobomb the Western Hemisphere in the year 2000.

Borrowing a metaphor from Karen T. Litfin, we are asked to gaze upon a “blue-and-white Christmas ornament.” Instead of our complex living breathing home world.

Litfin is critical of the uncritical planetary gaze. Celebratory discourses mask approaches which express and reinforce selected power relations.

The managerial impulse appealed to by miniaturisation of the Earth made possible by satellite photography (and now computerisation) can be seen in recent appeals for a planetary computer in order to ‘manage the earth’s natural resources.’

If the paradigm of rationality and control from which planetary managerialism emanates is supported by enhanced constructed visions which decide how things ought to look.

Then reminders of how things actually look, visions subtracted of unnecessary manipulations, are a necessary complication to our planetary gazing.

Apollo 17, 70mm Hasselblad Image Catalog, NASA. (original image orientation)

Litfin, K. T. (1997). The gendered eye in the sky: a feminist perspective on earth observation satellites. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 18(2), 26-47. Chicago.