The First Whole Earth Catalog, Fall 1968


This long-awaited image of our fully illuminated planet in its true colors can be described as humankind’s first self-portrait. Even at this relatively short distance in time, it is difficult to imagine the impact such photographs had on the public who responded with real emotion to the first images of their Home Planet.

Twenty-four Apollo astronauts from 1968 to 1972 were the only humans to witness the incredible view of their planet as a globe in space and Apollo 17 the only crew to photograph such a fully illuminated Earth, known as the famous “Blue Marble."

In December 1966 the geostationary satellite ATS I transmitted the first B&W detailed photograph of the whole Earth with its “spin-scan cloud camera.” In August 1967, the US Air Force Dodge satellite transmitted a few crude color photographs of the entire disc of the Earth but the quality was very low.

After the roaring success of ATS I, Dr. Verner Suomi developed a revolutionary high definition color camera for ATS III, the MSSCC (Multicolor Spin-Scan Cloudcover Camera) which prefigured digital technology. ATS III was  launched in November 1967 and sent into an equatorial geostationary orbit (22,236 miles above the Earth). 

On November 10, 1967, ATS III transmitted the historic first high quality color photograph of the entire disc of Earth. This unprecedented photograph showed North and South America, West Africa and Europe, as well as the southern part of the Greenland ice cap, and Antarctica covered with clouds. ATS III was stationed at an altitude of about 22,300 miles over the Equator at approximately 47° W.

The original NASA caption for the photograph was uncharacteristically poetic: “The photo shows the entire disk of the Earth, a cloud-covered globe in the blackness of space.”

This long-awaited image of our fully illuminated planet in its true colors can be described as humankind’s first self-portrait. Even at this relatively short distance in time, it is difficult to imagine the impact such photograph had on the public who responded with real emotion to the first image of their Home Planet.

The photograph was to become a symbol of the counterculture movement as the iconic cover illustration of the first 1968 Whole Earth Catalog, the magazine founded by Stewart Brand and lionized by Steve Jobs. Brand had campaigned to have NASA release a then-rumored satellite image of the entire Earth as seen from space, convinced that a picture of the entire planet would change how humans related to their home.

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available - once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes known – a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”

—Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948