The First Photo From Space
In 1946, rocket-borne cameras gave us our first look at Earth from beyond the atmosphere.
- By Tony Reichhardt
- Air & Space magazine, November 2006
White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory
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More than 1,000 Earth pictures were returned from V-2s between 1946 and 1950, from altitudes as high as 100 miles. The photos, showing huge expanses of the American southwest, appeared in newspapers and were scrutinized by scientists from the U.S. Weather Bureau. In his National Geographic article, Holliday offered a few predictions as to where it all might lead: "Results of these tests now are pointing to a time when cameras may be mounted on guided missiles for scouting enemy territory in war, mapping inaccessible regions of the earth in peacetime, and even photographing cloud formations, storm fronts, and overcast areas over an entire continent in a few hours." Going out on a limb, he speculated that "the entire land area of the globe might be mapped in this way."
Fred Rulli, the former member of the camera recovery team, now counts himself lucky to have been in the "select group" that saw the first pictures from space as they came in. At 19, it seemed to him like just another Army job. But he recalls a friend at White Sands, another soldier—60 years later he’s forgotten his name—who was more alive to the future unfolding in front of them. Pointing to the rockets, the scientists and the clear New Mexico sky, the friend would turn to Rulli and say with amazement, "Do you realize what’s going on here?"