Little Bits of History

Earth

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 24, 2012

First picture of Earth from outer space

October 24, 1946: The White Sands rocket launches. The official name of the craft was V-2 No. 13 and it flew out of the White Sands Missile Range in White Sands, New Mexico. The rocket flew straight up and when it reached the peak altitude of 107.5 miles, it fell back to Earth. The mission had included a camera. Black-and-white photos were taken with the movie camera every second and a half beginning at 65 miles of altitude. The rocket plunged back to Earth and struck the ground at a speed of 500 feet per second. The camera was smashed to bits. However, the film had been protected in a steel cassette and it was unharmed. These were the first pictures of Earth from space.

Fred Rulli was a 19-year-old enlisted man at the time. He was also part of the recovery team whose job it was to find the crash site in the desert and retrieve the film. When the scientists found the cassette in good shape, they were ecstatic – according to Fred. He also relates that when they first projected the pictures on a screen they “just went nuts.” Before 1946, Earth had been pictured from an altitude of 13.7 miles from aboard the Explorer II balloon. Eleven years later, that distance had been greatly surpassed and for the first time, the curvature of the planet could be seen using the camera designed by Clyde Holliday. When the pictures were displayed, Earth could be seen against the blackness of space.

This was only one of the “firsts” from the V-2 rocket program. The Army was able to fire off the captured German missiles brought to New Mexico aboard 300 railroad cars. The scientists on site used the missiles to perfect their own rocket designs and with ongoing launches inserted a number of instruments inside the nosecones. They were able to study temperatures, pressures, magnetic fields, along with other aspects of the heretofore unexplored upper atmosphere.

Holliday worked for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and worked with many of the other leading scientists of the time – James Van Allen and S. Fred Singer among them. Both of these men would be instrumental in planning the early US satellites. Holliday was concerned with the camera, not just because of the wonderful pictures it was able to return to the home planet. He was also studying how the rocket was steering in the upper atmosphere and what sort of disturbances might be caused by cosmic rays. Today, we have seen the Blue Marble and the wonders of the planet as seen from the Moon. These grainy 35 mm photos are not the same quality, but they have the distinction of being the first pictures from outer space.

They were ecstatic, they were jumping up and down like kids. – Fred Rulli, about the scientists at the crash site

[This is] how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a space ship. – Clyde Holliday in National Geographic in 1950

We considered clouds to be a nuisance. – S. Fred Singer

[Holliday was] in an environment with super-Ph.D.s, and he wanted to make clear that photography was a science, too. – Cy O’Brien

Also on this day:

Nedelin Catastrophe – In 1960, a Soviet Union ICBM exploded on the launchpad.
Notre Dame – In 1260, the cathedral was dedicated.
Terror Along the Beltway – In 2002, the Beltway Sniper was arrested.

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