STEM through the lens
Chances are you’ve seen this photograph before—maybe on a T-shirt, on a billboard, or in a TV ad. The “Blue Marble Shot” has been reprinted more than any other photograph in history. It was taken on December 7, 1972, by one of the three Apollo 17 astronauts on their way to the Moon. But no one knows which astronaut took the picture because all three claimed to have been the photographer.
During the few minutes Apollo 17 flew across the place in space located directly between the Sun and Earth (which was 28,000 miles away), no one should have been looking out of the window as they all had important tasks to do. But, obviously, someone, and perhaps everyone, was looking out. One of them grabbed a camera and clicked the shutter four times.
After Apollo 17 returned to Earth, the picture was published on the front page of newspapers all over the world. For the first time ever, people saw the full planet Earth completely flooded in sunshine. Heavy clouds swirled over vast oceans. The African coastline was clearly visible, with its northeastern edge fitting like a puzzle piece with the Arabian Peninsula. Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth, was slightly off center, looking like a slipper floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And because the photo was taken just two weeks before the winter solstice, Earth’s southern hemisphere was tilted toward the sun, revealing Antarctica. For the first time ever, the south polar ice caps appeared in a photo.
The mystery of who took the picture has never been solved. The commander of the mission, Eugene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon, says he snapped the picture. But would the commander have had the time to take the photo at that critical point of the flight? Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the first geologist sent to the moon, also swears that he took the picture. Perhaps that makes sense because he was responsible for making scientific observations. Ron Evans, who died in 1990, also claimed that he took the picture.
No one will ever know for sure who took the Blue Marble Shot. But the words of Commander Eugene Cernan describe what he saw out of his spaceship window “…you can look out the window and you're looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens— the most beautiful because it's the one we understand and we know, it's home, it's people, family, love, life —and besides that, it is beautiful. ”
In Alex's book Cars on Mars you can follow the course of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity explore the Red Planet. Learn how scientists determined that there was once water on Mars and how the earthbound NASA team resolved problems with the rovers from afar in order to prolong the mission, which continues today. For more information, click here.
Alex is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 CItation
Siy, Alexandra. "Mystery of the Blue Marble." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Mystery-of-the-Blue-Marble.
The Explainer General
In 1961 the United States was losing the Space Race with the USSR. Our best rockets were blowing up on the launch pads.
But on January 31, 1961, we were ready to send our first astronaut into space on a long, high arc. He was only three feet tall. His name was Number 65. (If the rocket blew up, a “named” animal would sound bad in the news . . ) When asked by radio, 65 would press sequences of buttons on the flight control panel, then receive a banana pellet reward.
The blast off from Cape Canaveral (now Cape Kennedy) wasn’t perfect. The Redstone rocket didn’t blow up, but the launch damaged the passenger pod’s hull. Also, the controls didn’t shut off on time and pushed the rocket much higher, much faster than planned. Ham traveled at 5,800 miles an hour, and reached a then-record high of 155 miles! This put his reentry landing far beyond the U.S. Navy ships sent to retrieve him. The pod splashed into the ocean, but water poured into the damaged pod. 65 was sinking! Two hours later a helicopter picked up the passenger pod just in time.
65 was a hero, so he was given a proper name: Ham. He appeared on the cover of magazines and newspapers as our first man—er, chimp— in space!
In only a few months human astronauts followed Ham’s lead. Alan Shepard and John Glenn rocketed into space and Ham was forgotten. He was given to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where he lived for 17 years, alone. He was trained as an astronaut and didn’t get along with jungle animals. His keepers noticed that he often lay on his back and punched in imaginary button sequences, as if he were still flying the capsule. The old chimponaut became lonely and depressed.
Ham was sent to a special “show animal” camp where he could reconnect with his wild brothers and sisters. He was taken to Andrews Air Force Base for the trip. As he was walked across the concrete something wonderful happened. He passed between two lines of Air National Guard pilots, saluting Ham. Ham the brave Chimponaut finally got his honor parade.
Ham lived 3 happy years at the camp and died peacefully in 1983. You can see a plaque for Ham at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico. It says:
He proved that mankind could live and work in space.
Adkins new book is about the first drive in an automobile. The wife of the inventor took her kids to see their grandparents.
ML 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "Chimponaut: A Hero Forgotten and Remembered." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/chimponaut:-a-hero-forgotten-and-remembered.
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