We have seen photographs from space before; the ‘Blue Marble‘ image of Earth as seen from Apollo 17 by Eugene Cernan (known to trivia quiz buffs as the last man to walk on the Moon) is one of the most-reproduced photographs ever taken, and with good reason; it demonstrates how small and fragile ‘spaceship Earth’ is in the cosmic context.
Major Tim Peake had a closer view: low Earth orbit. For six months in December 2015 and early 2016 he was a crew member aboard the International Space Station. ‘Hello, is this planet Earth?’ is a collection of his photographs from that unique viewpoint.
A brief introduction describes Peake’s inspiration from his subject matter, and also some of the problems involved in photographing from space: cosmic radiation causing sensors to deteriorate, zero-gravity means that dust gets everywhere and, of course, shooting from a platform moving at 30,000kph. After that, we are into the pictures.
The images are thematically arranged: Night and Day shows how human influence and constructions are difficult to see during daytime, but dominate at night as our towns and cities (and even our individual fishing boats) are lit up. Oceans and Rivers was the most fascinating section for me – with an abstract quality to many of the images. Mountains and Deserts reminds me of the relief maps of my school atlas. Towns and Cities was mostly shot with very long lenses; most detail of human habitation being too small to see with the naked eye. Space and Home shows us astronomic and atmospheric phenomena.
This is a book of beautiful images, and worth seeing for that alone, but is also thought-provoking as we see how insignificant is man’s mark on the planet and how thin is that strip of atmosphere that we live in compared with the vastness of space around it. Peake had a privileged viewpoint; we are privileged to share it.
Peake, T.(2016)Hello, is this planet Earth? My View from the International Space Station. London: Random House (Penguin)