Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



The Impact of Photographs of Earth from Space

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

The first photographs of Earth from space were taken on October 24, 1946 – shot at an altitude of 65 miles over the New Mexico desert from a V-2 rocket launched from the White Sands Missile Range. The grainy, black and white photos clearly showed the curvature of the Earth, though from that low altitude only a partial view of the globe was possible.

It was not until 1961, with the beginning of NASA manned spaceflights, that Americans began to see stunning and evocative pictures of the Earth from space – pictures that changed everything.

These photographs immediately provided a perspective no one had ever seen before.

From space no political boundaries, no borders, no ethnic homelands are visible. There is only geography, the natural contours of land and sea. Our planet is a shimmering blue ball hanging in utter darkness.

But even from afar, there is evidence of abundant life: 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered with sparkling blue water; the white-cloud weather patterns swirling around the globe indicate an atmosphere; and the glorious shades of green announce the presence of photosynthesis-based plant life.

EarthriseOn Christmas Eve 1968 astronaut William A. Anders snapped this photo from the Apollo 8 spacecraft in lunar orbit as it emerged from the far side of the moon. Crew commander Frank Borman exclaimed, “Oh my God, look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up!"

Earthrise, as this photograph came to be called, is surely one of the most powerful and eloquent images ever taken of the Earth from space. We see the watery abundance of our life-filled planet rising over the sterile lunar landscape -- against the backdrop of vast and empty Space.

Noted wilderness photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

Perhaps we are jaded, after all these years. A NASA website now catalogs some 745,000 photographs of Earth taken from space.

Photographs evoke a sense of place in a way that words cannot. This section of Saving the features a selection of books and DVDs that capture compelling and thought-provoking images of our planet –- from orbital earthviews to startling undersea photographs taken in the deepest parts of the ocean.

These books and DVDs have been chosen to reawaken the sense of wonder we experienced when we first saw Earthrise –- and to remind us how vast and beautiful and fragile is this Earth.

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