This Week Under “Spotlight”: The History Behind The First Photo From Space

A few years before 1946, space exploration was not a popular idea and the only people who considered space travel were mad Nazi rocket scientists, the most famous of which was Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun. Von Braun obsessed about space travel and did not hesitate to reach his objective at any cost. That cost did not exclude him joining the Nazi Party and the Allgemeine SS, persuading Hitler to provide him with the monetary supplies along with the slave labor and materials required, heading the Peenemunde Army Research Center, and building the notorious V-2 rocket which bombed the hell out of Great Britain.

Nearly one year after the ending of World War II and 11 years prior to the launch of Sputnik and the establishment of NASA, the US had captured multiple V-2 rockets and recruited Ex-Nazi scientists to gain their knowledge and expertise, reverse engineer the advanced German technology, and conduct scientific research in different fields. And on the 24th of October, 1946, a team of German scientists along with American military engineers commissioned by the “V-2 Upper-Atmosphere Research Panel” and headed by Wernher von Braun; former Technical Director of the Army Rocket Center at Peenemunde and later naturalized American rocket scientist, set forth on a mission to launch a V-2 rocket from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico into space.

The V-2 missile hurtled 104 kilometers into space while photographing the terrain below it at a rate of 2 frames every 3 seconds using a 35-mm motion picture camera mounted on the top V-2 missile. Minutes later, the missile shut down and dropped back to earth with a staggering speed of 550 km/h. The camera was smashed into pieces; nevertheless, the steel coated film remained intact.


Explorer II ( First Inflation Attempt)

Aside from establishing a world record by ascending to an altitude five times greater than the height reached by its predecessor; the Explorer II balloon (pictured above) which ascended 22 km in 1935, the photos taken beyond the Karman Line showed for the first time the contrast between Earth and the emptiness of space and portrayed how our planet would look like to any intelligent extraterrestrial coming in on a spaceship.

None of the scientists back then gave photography much consideration. Their main focus was only directed towards gaining information related to cosmic rays and aerodynamic performance. Clyde Holliday on the other hand; the engineer behind developing the camera deployed on the V-2 rocket, understood the significance and power lying behind photography as such. Holliday also reported a few predictions in the National Geographic article which included cameras mounted on guided missiles for scouting enemy territory in war, mapping inaccessible regions, and photographing cloud formations and storm fronts.

The first image of earth captured from space

First Photo From Space


The importance of this mission did not lie in the demonstration of the military power managed by the United States of America at that time. On the contrary, the magnificence of this event in history was discovering how tiny we earthlings are relative to the vast cosmic arena.




Author: Mario R.

Co-founder of CLAFA, philanthropist, and administrator at Free Thought Lebanon & Lebanese Atheists, web-developer. Human rights activist. Enrolled in different social welfare clubs. A Monist Physicalist Pantheist.

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