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Blue Marble
December 12, 2002
December 7, 2002, marked the thirtieth birthday of one of the most breathtaking photographs ever taken. It was on this day in 1972 that NASA launched the sixth and final Apollo lunar-landing mission: Apollo 17. The legacy of Apollo 17 lives on through its crew, its scientific discoveries—and a single photograph taken during its magnificent journey.

This full-earth snapshot has become one of the most widely recognized and requested photographs of all time. It became a symbol of environmental awareness during the 1970’s, making its way onto numerous posters, flags, and T-shirts with the slogan, "It’s the only one we’ve got." The Apollo 17 photograph represents not only a milestone in space exploration but also a giant stepping-stone in the quest to understand and protect our home planet.

Cruising towards the Moon at nearly 30,000 miles away from Earth, Apollo 17 found itself aligned with the Earth and the Sun. For the first time in an Apollo mission, the Antarctic continent was lit by the Sun and visible to the astronauts. Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt journeyed to the Moon to study its geology and to obtain the greatest number and variety of photographs of any Apollo mission thus far. To this day, Cernan and Schmitt are the last two people to have set foot on the Moon.

This view of the Earth extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica South polar ice cap. Despite the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere, almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible.

The most detailed image of the entire Earth to date is the new "Blue Marble" image, created in 2002. To form the Blue Marble, NASA scientists and visualizers stitched together months of satellite observations into a seamless, true-color mosaic of every square kilometer of our planet.

image: NASA

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