In October 1946, American scientists, working in White Sands, New Mexico, shot a V‑2 missile 65 miles into the air. The missile (originally designed by the Nazis during World War II) carried a 35-millimeter camera aloft that snapped an image every second and a half. When the missile returned to Earth, the camera itself was demolished by the impact. But the film, protected by a steel casing, remained unscathed, according to Air & Space Magazine. And when the scientists recovered the film, they witnessed something never seen by humans before — the first images of our planet taken from outer space. As one scientist put it, we got to see (above) “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a space ship.”
By the 1950s, the U.S. Air Force started working with a new line of missile, the Thor missile. And it made history in May, 1959. Launched from Cape Canaveral, the Thor Missile Number 187 carried a General Electric-manufactured “data capsule” and 16-millimeter camera in its nose cone. The flight lasted 15 minutes, covered 1500 miles, and ended in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the GE Film Catalog, when the data capsule was recovered:
General Electric scientists began the careful processing of the capsule’s contents. They were not long in finding the results they had hoped for—in the subdued light of a photographic dark room, on a still-dripping strip of developed motion picture film, the eyes of man beheld for the first time the image of the earth as it appears from beyond the atmosphere.
You can watch the historic video immediately above.
To get more recent views of the Earth from outer space, don’t miss these dazzling videos:
- A Brief, Wondrous Tour of Earth (From Outer Space)
- A Day on Earth (as Seen From Space)
- What an Astronaut Sees from Space
- What It Feels Like to Fly Over Planet Earth