Planetary Gazing

The ‘Blue Marble’ image of Earth from space is an environmental touchstone. It makes us feel small and humble. Perhaps even lucky.

Blue Marble has undergone several iterations since the original photograph taken in 1972 by the Apollo 17 NASA crew with a 70 millimetre Hassleblad camera.

The image below is a generated digital image created and added to the Blue Marble collection in April 2000. Assembled with data from three different satellites, the image is an achievement of “science, engineering and artistry.”

Blue Marble, 2000, NASA.

The goal to replicate the “visceral impact” of viewing Earth from space has been 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. With celebratory discourses masking 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 continual reminders of how things actually look, visions subtracted of unnecessary manipulations, are a necessary and welcome complication to our planetary gaze.

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.