First NASA 'entire Earth' photograph could blast to $23,724 in London

"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."

Those were the prescient words of astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, speaking in 1948, and you'll have a chance to own your own example of this "sheer isolation" when the first colour photograph of the entire disc of the Earth auctions at Bloomsbury on November 3.

The photograph was taken by the ATS-III satellite nearly two decades after Hoyle's prediction, on November 18, 1957. The large-format vintage chromogenic print measures 39 x 49cm (15 3/8 x 19 ¼ inches) on "Kodak Paper". It bears NASA negative number 67-H-1552.

The first Applications Technology Satellite (ATS-I) was launched in 1966 with a revolutionary camera on board. The "spin-scan cloud camera" was invented by Dr Verner Suomi and Professor Robert Parent of the University of Wisconsin.

The camera was initially designed to take high resolution weather photographs from a spinning satellite orbiting as fast as the Earth was spinning, resulting in an apparently 'stationary' image.

The first colour photograph of the entire disc of the Earth ATS-III satellite

The first colour photograph of the entire disc of the Earth ATS-III satellite

The camera was pronounced "a roaring success, with performance beyond my wildest dreams" by Dr Suomi after transmitting its first black and white photographs back to Earth (examples of which will also appear for sale at Bloomsbury).

Suomi then developed a colour camera for ATS-III, launched in November 1967 and sent into an equatorial orbit over Brazil.

Here was the result of Suomi's innovation: an unprecedented photograph showing North and South America, part of Africa and Europe as well as the southern part of the Greenland ice cap. Antarctica, as you can see, is covered with clouds.

"The photo shows the entire disc of the Earth, a cloud-covered globe in the blackness of space," says NASA's uncharacteristically poetic caption.

As well as being a striking - and historic - image, scientists also emphasised the importance of the image for studying the world's weather.


By zooming in on the high resolution image, "features as small as two nautical miles can be seen. As evidenced here, color makes it easier to distinguish between clouds, dry land, green vegetation, and bodies of water," commented Leonard Jaffe, Director of Space Applications Programs.

Needless to say, this first image of our planet in its true colours is today among the 20th century's most important. Its impact on Earth's public also saw the image become used by the counter-cultural movement, notably in the 1968 Whole Earth Catalog.

Bloomsbury expects this image to bring £10,000-£15,000 ($23,724) when it appears for sale in Mayfair, London. Bids will open at £9,000.

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