On March 7, 1947, not long after the end of World War II and years before Sputnik ushered in the space age, a group of soldiers and scientists in the New Mexico desert saw something new and wonderful in these grainy black-and-white-photos - the first pictures of Earth as seen from altitude greater than 100 miles in space. Just the year before in 1946, scientists like John T. Mengel, a NASA pioneer who later oversaw the Vanguard Program, began experimenting with captured German V-2 rockets. (source Nasa)
Mengel conducted upper atmosphere experiments by launching the rockets into near-earth orbit. He designed and fabricated the first research nose shell to replace of the V-2 warhead and began placing cameras in the nose shell.
In the following years more V-2 rockets would be launched, some reaching heights of 100 miles, giving us many more detailed views of our planet as it looks from space and prompting Clyde Holliday, the APL engineer who developed the mounted film cameras, to envision that “the entire land area of the globe might be mapped in this way.”
The image above shows the first photo captured of Earth from space, taken by a camera mounted to a V-2 rocket that was launched from the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Taken to the United States by the dozen from Germany after the end of World War II, the V-2 (for “Vergeltungswaffe 2”) missiles were used by the Army to improve on their own rocket designs and also by scientists who were permitted to fill their payloads with experiments.
On October 24, 1946, a V-2 was launched from the Missile Range while a mounted 35mm movie camera captured images every 1.5 seconds. It reached an altitude of 65 miles before crashing back to Earth and, while the camera was destroyed on impact, the film cassette survived. The grainy photo seen above was on that roll, one of our first views of Earth from above the atmosphere. Read more