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On the wall of the Atmospheric Science Building there were posters for the International Geophysical Year, which was 1957-58, and one of those posters was the western half of the United States as seen by a rocket—one of the rockets that we had captured from the Germans with von Braun. We would launch from New Mexico to explore rockets and to explore space.
There was this fantastic picture that showed the curvature of the Earth, and showed New Mexico and Arizona and California and northern Mexico, and I saw that in the early sixties when we first got there. To me it was more spectacular of the picture we later saw from Apollo, because it was so much earlier.
They had launched the first weather satellite, and here was this first picture of the cloud formations of Earth as seen from space. Those kinds of pictures really affected our view of our planet.
I’m a big fan of the early artistic renditions of the solar system. Chesley Bonestell was the father of astronomical art in the United States. He had seen the first V-2 pictures from New Mexico looking down, and New Mexico had a very specific kind of cloud pattern. There are lots of these little individual cumulus clouds, and they would actually cast a shadow. Bonestell would paint the Earth this way, with these little patchy clouds.
Nobody realized that these clouds were organized into these huge systems; these big cyclonic bands and spirals and so forth. People knew a hurricane was a spiral, but the early artists trying to understand what the Earth would look like from space didn’t sense the extent of it —they painted all the clouds as sort of separate little clouds because that’s what you could see from the V-2 photographs in New Mexico. So that first picture coming in from a weather satellite, and the idea that they were going to be able to track these systems, was an amazing thing to look to.
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