On October 24, 1946, scientists at the U.S. Air Force Range in the New Mexico desert became the first people in history to see what our Earth looks like from space. They were looking at a grainy, black-and-white picture taken 105 kilometers above sea level. Half of the frame was of the Earth’s surface, and the other half was of the black, mysterious cosmos, the goal of humanity for the coming decades.
The V-2 rocket, better known as the FAU-2, was fitted with a camera that took a series of pictures throughout the flight. The rocket entered a suborbital trajectory and reached a maximum altitude of 105 km, then flew down where it crashed to pieces together with the camera. The film was pre-installed in a protective case, so it survived. The results are shown above.
Did you know? Up to this point, the record for the farthest photograph of Earth was taken in 1935 from a height of 22 km using a balloon. The photograph clearly showed the spherical shape of the earth, but of course it was still a long way from outer space.
The success of the mission was largely made possible by the world’s first suborbital rocket, the FAU-2, developed by German engineers. With it, Hitler intended to bomb England: to destroy its industry and keep the civilian population in a panic. But the successes of the German engineers continued during the war and were able to bring the rocket to fruition. In the end, most of the FAU-2 missiles were captured and used by the victorious side to build their own missiles and scientific experiments. In particular, scientists were interested in how a rocket’s flight through the Earth’s atmosphere would be affected, and how space radiation outside the atmosphere would affect the technology.
Did you know? The Karman line is recognized as the official boundary between the atmosphere and outer space. It is named after Hungarian physicist, Theodore von Karman.
The resulting images of the Earth’s surface outside the atmosphere sparked great public interest in space exploration, and between 1946 and 1950, about 1,000 photographs of our planet were taken with the FAU-2, and some of them from 160 km above sea level.
Did you know? 44 years. That’s how much time elapsed between the very first photograph of Earth from space and the farthest photograph of Earth from space taken by the Voyager 1 probe at 6,054,558,968 km.