The photo is simple: the small, blue Earth rising in the sky over the barren landscape of the moon. We tend to take the Apollo 8 photo for granted. Benjamin Lazier of Reed College urges us to take another look the impact of the iconic NASA photo. In a 2011 article for The American Historical Review, Lazier goes beyond what has traditionally been championed as a picture that defined the environmentalism movement. Lazier doesn’t disagree that the photo had a huge impact on environmentalism, he merely points out that it may have also accelerated the perspective of globalization. We live in a time when everything seems to have global attached to it. This movement may have begun far before the Apollo missions, but the photographs from those missions seem to have accelerated the change in global perspective, as it did environmental perspective.
How important are photos? The 1972 picture of Earth as a “Blue Marble” hanging in the inky darkness of space may be the most widely disseminated picture in human history, as pointed out by Lazier. It is used to underscore many moral, political and scientific ideas. At once the photos show not only a lonely planet in the vastness of space, but our lonely planet and our only home. Even more striking, Lazier, says is how quickly the image lost its novelty and became part of our collective psyche.
If just a couple of pictures can have such an impact on human perception, what would happen After First Contact? Depending on how it goes down, such an event could have a series of perception altering images and an impact on our collective psyche rivaling many of the previous revolutions of thought. It could be the first picture of an intelligent extraterrestrial life form. Perhaps it’s not a picture, but rather the sound of an engineered signal discovered in far off space?
Maybe First Contact would only enhance the continuing Earthrise Era and broaden our perspective on the universe? Lazier argues that the Earthrise and Blue Marble photos in a sense brought the Copernican revolution era and the pre-Copernican revolution era of thought together again, allowing for both realizations at the same time. It says that yes we are a small speck in the sky, orbiting a sun and not the center of the universe. It also suggests that the Earth is our fragile home and the center of what we do. If we screw up our home we threaten our very existence.
The Earthrise photo may have just been preparing us for the next inevitable step in human development- citizens of not just a small blue marble hanging in space, but citizens of the universe, joining other beings.
Lazier, B. (2011). Earthrise; or, The Globalization of the World Picture
The American Historical Review, Vol. 116, No. 3 (June 2011), pp. 602-630