Lesson 4: Earth from Outer Space

The first photographs of Earth from outer space transformed how people viewed our planet and our society. In this lesson, students will make a photographic series to learn how perspective changes our view of objects and discuss how the first images of Earth from outer space changed our perspective of the planet.

Lesson Overview

Grade Level & Subject: Grades 5-9: Visual Arts and History

Length: 2-3 class periods

After completing the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Take photographs of an object from different perspectives.
  • Practice identifying objects from different perspectives.
  • Explain their reactions to the first photographs of Earth from outer space and the changed viewpoint of the global society.

National Standards Addressed:
This lesson addresses the following National Standards for Arts Education comes from the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations.


  • Students select media, techniques, and processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of their choices.
  • Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.


Achievement Standard, Advanced:

  • Students initiate, define, and solve challenging visual arts problems independently using intellectual skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.


  • Students analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate, resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art. 


  • Students describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts. 


  • Students compare characteristics of visual arts within a particular historical period or style with ideas, issues, or themes in the humanities or sciences. 

This lesson addresses the following National Standards for History presented by The National Center for History in the Schools:


  • Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States.

Materials Needed:

  • Reproducible #1 – “Photographing Objects from Different Perspectives” Project Example
  • Reproducible # 2 – “View of Earth From Space; Lunar Orbiter”
  • Reproducible # 3 – “View of Earth From Space; Lunar Orbiter Zoomed In”
  • Reproducible # 4 – “View of Earth From Space; First Photo of Space”
  • Reproducible # 5 – “View of Earth From Space; TIRO”
  • Reproducible # 6 – “View of Earth From Space; The Blue Marble”
  • Reproducible # 7 – “View of Earth From Space; Rising Earth”
  • Reproducible # 8 – “View of Earth From Space; Pale Blue Dot”
  • Digital or disposable cameras (If needed, divide the class into groups for sharing cameras. You may be able to find in-kind camera donations online or in your community, or you may find funds for purchasing cameras and supplies through websites such as donorschoose.org.)
  • Printer (to print photos)
  • Poster board (or other method of photo series display) for each student
  • Scissors
  • Internet Access
  • Index card or half-sheet of paper for each student
  • Earth Days

Assessment: Students will be assessed through the following activities:

  • Completion of a photographic series of an object based on changed perspectives.
  • Presentation of photographic series.
  • Participation in discussion of perspective and the impact of the first photographic images of Earth from outer space.

Lesson Background

Relevant Vocabulary:

  • Outer Space: space immediately outside the earth's atmosphere; any region of space beyond limits determined with reference to the boundaries of a celestial body or system; interplanetary or interstellar space.
  • Perspective: the appearance to the eye of objects in respect to their relative distance and positions.
  • Focus (pl. foci): adjustment for distinct vision; also: the area that may be seen distinctly or resolved into a clear image.
  • Angle: the precise viewpoint from which something is observed or considered.

The first image of Earth from outer space was taken by a camera on a missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 1946. This photograph, taken in black and white and very grainy, was not seen by the public. NASA’s Apollo Program eventually released many of the photographs of Earth that have been popularized since the 1960s, and these images have transformed the way people view our planet. Put in the context of the vastness of outer space, people saw our planet as smaller and more fragile than they had before. This shift was a contributing factor to the modern environmental movement. As Denis Hayes states in Earth Days, “The image [of Earth from outer space] was maybe the most reproduced image in American history. We suddenly realized that the Earth was a very small thing. Much as if you live on an island you are much more acutely aware of the limitations of your resources and on your ability to pollute. That photograph of the Earth in this vast sea of space did pretty much the same thing for the whole planet.” (film chapter: Changing Views of Earth)
Students have the opportunity to take photographs of a self-selected object in this lesson. Taking photos up-close and then further away, they will demonstrate how perspective can change one’s view of an object. Students will also view the first images of Earth taken from space and discuss the reactions people had to these images.



  • For the photo presentation activity, you may need to prepare extra poster boards or cardboard as covers for students’ class presentations, so that only one photo is visible at a time. 

Lesson Steps

Warm Up: Photographing Objects from Different Perspectives
Students take photographs of an item - it can be anything from a flower to the blackboard. Students may also bring objects from home for the activity. Have students examine the various angles, distances and different foci possible with their cameras. Then, have them create a photo series, beginning with close-ups (zoom in to where the item might be unrecognizable) and then gradually pulling the frame out to where viewers can see the object, its physical placement, background, etc. (See Project Example at the end of this lesson.) This activity can also be done at home as a pre-assignment.

  1. If the assignment is completed during class, allot students enough time to pick an object and take several photographs. Consider having students go outside so they can spread out and have more options for photographic subjects.
  2. Beforehand, decide the number of photographs students should present (three to six is a suggested number). Have students choose their favorite images - they should be clear and range from close-up to long-shot.
  3. Print out the photographs while ensuring that the students don’t see each other’s images.
  4. In the next activity, students should guess what each other’s object is, starting with the most close-up shot; thus, arrange the photos in a way that does not reveal the final image. For instance, students can hold them up one by one, having the photos stacked behind each other, or they can arrange them on a poster board with a large paper, cardboard, or object to cover up the photos so they can be revealed one at a time.

Activity One: Close-up & Perspective Presentations
Students share their close ups and classmates guess the depicted image.

  1. Select a student to begin by showing his/her first image, making sure the other photographs are covered up.
  2. The rest of the class should try to guess what the object is based on the close-up image. Students can guess out loud or write their ideas down as each image is shown.
  3. The presenting student should gradually show the rest of the images with the class guessing throughout. Be sure s/he is able to present each image and show the different angles and perspectives.
  4. Continue having each student share photos with the class.
  5. For each presentation, have students who guessed the object correctly share what clues helped them to make their realization. Was it a specific detail that suddenly became visible? Was it a better view of the background or surroundings? Was it a new angle or a change in the perspective?

Activity Two: Discussion on Perspective 
Students discuss the photos and different perspectives. The teacher should guide the discussion from speaking about the actual images in the photo presentation to the broader potential of photography.

  1. Talk about the importance of perspective and how it can determine the way one can view an object. 
  • What physically changed from image to image?  The distance from the camera lens to the object.
  • What did this affect? Our perception. We looked at the object differently up close versus farther away, and our brain made different connections at each view.
  • Why were the close-ups different from the longer shots when the object was farther away?  Perhaps one could notice objects or distinctions in the close-ups that one would not otherwise. For instance, the grooves or lines of an orange or the stitching pattern of a fabric. The longer distance shots may provide a context or background not seen in the close ups.
  • Why are all those angles and distances important? They invariably affect our perception. Examining only one angle will afford only one side of a story. In fact, photographers or editors purposely manipulate photographs to show only one viewpoint. Seeing different viewpoints of an object can help us not only acquire a broader perspective of that object, but also be critical of “one-sided” images. Such depictions may also offer additional insight into what one cannot see. Seeing all possible angles helps one to think of the object while considering its multiplicity, complexity, environment or relationships.
  • Can you think of an example of when photographs or perspectives are skewed in order to manipulate the views of the audience one way or another? In advertising, for example, advertisers sometimes show the freshest, most delicious, colorful food or surround products with happy, smiling people to alter an audience’s association with the product. News reporters, for example, angle news stories towards the more exciting or emotional; and 3D movies change the experience of watching a movie.
  • Consider what would happen if we did this project with larger objects, such as buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, or even planets?  How could the perspectives of these objects change based on the distance or viewpoint? For example, how would your school building look if the street or neighborhood were not visible around it? What if they were visible? Does it change the image of your school? Think about pulling back the view even farther to show the rest of the town, city, state, country, continent, or planet? How does perception change with the distance? What about the viewpoint of the people inside the building looking outward?
  • A photograph can be truly powerful. The next activity will discuss how these concepts relate to some of the most powerful images of planet Earth.

Activity Three: Close-Ups of Earth  
This discussion will transition to the first photos of Earth in the mid to late twentieth century.

  1. Reveal the first public image of Earth as recorded by NASA. You may refer toReproducibles # 2 and 3 for two different views of this photograph. For more views, project the following link, First view of Earth to the public by a Spacecraft near the Moon to the class. Visit http://www.archive.org/details/289764main_GPN-2000-001588_full and click to display the photo from Lunar Orbiter 1 from the JPEG images towards the bottom of the page. *Before showing the link, use your mouse or zoom button and adjust the window to zoom in on Earth (the small semicircle in the background.)
  2. Ask students what this is a photo of. What does the image look like or can they guess the location it was taken from?
  3. Zoom out slowly to reveal the lunar landscape of the Moon. Allow a few seconds in between the magnifications for the students to see and observe the differences.
  4. Can they guess what the image is now?  Where was the picture taken from? It is a picture of the Earth as seen from a spacecraft just above the Moon. It was taken by Lunar Orbiter I on August 23, 1966. This was the world's first view of Earth from space.
  5. Once students have guessed that they are looking at Earth from the Moon, explain to them that this image had a profound impact on people’s attitude toward our planet. Youth today have grown up with these photos and the perspective of Earth from afar, but many of the people who saw this image for the first time were uniquely transformed.
  6. Project or make photocopies of Reproducibles # 2- 8 Views of Earth from Space at the end of this lesson and discuss each image with the class.

a) This is the first picture of Earth from outer space taken with a television camera, which NASA was experimenting with to develop a worldwide meteorological satellite information system. It was taken on April 1, 1960 (this photo was taken before the above photo from Lunar Orbiter 1). This photo was not taken far enough away from the Earth’s surface to view the whole planet.

b) This photo was taken from the December 1972 Apollo 17, which was the first U.S. human spacecraft launched at nighttime and also the sixth and last lunar landing mission of the Apollo program. This photo, often referred to as “The Blue Marble,” was the first clear image of the whole planet illuminated and was also the first photo of the south polar ice cap. Astronauts snapped this photo while on a trajectory towards the moon and at a distance of approximately 45,000 km (28,000 mi).

Show clip of Denis Hayes from Earth Days speaking about the impact this image had on the environmental movement. (film chapter: Changing Views of Earth) You can also use the quote below. Ask your students why they believe this view of Earth would relate to environmental movement?

“The image I think was maybe the most reproduced image in American history. We suddenly realized that the Earth was a very small thing.” – Denis Hayes, coordinator of the original Earth Day (film chapter: Changing Views of Earth)

c) The December 1968 Apollo 8 mission saw humans leave Earth’s orbit for the first time. The spacecraft circled the moon ten times before returning to Earth. It shows half of the Earth and the moon’s surface in the foreground, both in color. To hear a brief reaction from the astronauts who took this photo on December 24, 1968, follow on the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/moon/sfeature/sf_audio.html and click on “Teamwork.” A transcript of their conversation is below:

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don't take that, it's not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you...
Lovell: Oh man, that's great!
Anders: Hurry. Quick.
Borman: Gee.
Lovell: It's down here?
Anders: Just grab me a color. That color exterior. Hurry up!
Anders: Got one?
Lovell: Yes, I'm looking for one. C 368.
Anders: Anything, quick.
Lovell: Here.
Anders: Well, I think we missed it.
Lovell: Hey, I got it right here!
Anders: Let me get it out this window. It's a lot clearer.
Lovell: Bill, I got it framed. It's very clear right here. You got it?
Anders: Yes.
Borman: Well, take several of them.
Lovell: Take several of them! Here, give it to me.
Anders: Wait a minute, let's get the right setting, here now. Just calm down.
Borman: Calm down, Lovell.
Lovell: Well, I got it ri.... Oh, that's a beautiful shot. 250 at f:11.
Anders: Okay.
Lovell: Now vary the exposure a little bit.
Anders: I did. I took two of them.

Ask students if the astronauts’ conversation and excitement at seeing this view of Earth indicates the change in perspective occurring in the general public at the time.

d) This image, often called the “Pale Blue Dot,” was taken by the Voyager 1. The spacecraft, launched on September 5, 1977, completed its primary mission and was on the edge of the solar system in 1990 when it turned around to take this photo from more than four billion miles away.

The famous cosmologist Carl Sagan said the following quote about the “Pale Blue Dot” image. His perspective further illustrates this burgeoning concept of Earth as a minute and fragile home.

“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan, Designer of Voyager 1

As you discuss the photos with students, have them conjecture where these images were taken. Zoom in and out to show different details. How does Earth look in each shot? How is each photo different from the one before it? Discuss the angles, perspectives, distance, clarity, colors, etc.

7. Give each student a large index card or half-sheet of paper. One by one, read aloud the questions listed below and give students 1-2 minutes to respond to each one. Afterward, allow students to share their ideas, having as many students as possible share at least one idea. Record their main ideas for all to see.


  • What do you think people’s view of Earth was like before seeing this image of Earth from outer space? Answers will vary, but before these photos, it would have been easier for people to think the Earth was the center of the universe. Earth seemed big and limitless, and people may have felt the sense of endless possibility and resources. When the Earth seems so big, it may seem that our actions are harmless.
  • Imagine your parents or grandparents seeing these images for the first time. How do you think people’s view of Earth changed after seeing these photos? Answers will vary. Seeing the Earth from outer space, people had an instant sense that our planet was tiny compared to the vast surrounding space, and much more fragile than imagined. Certainly there was a growing understanding that our actions had an impact. In addition, seeing Earth as a single, enclosed system surrounded by emptiness gave some people a sense that we must be more aware of the limited resources we have.
  • At what other points in history do you think people’s perspective may have changed dramatically? Think about innovations in technology, culture and worldview. Answers will vary, but the introduction of the train, for example, had a huge impact. Before the train, people did not typically travel far from their homes and communities. Traveling on a train was perceived as incredibly fast and brought people to new places. Another example is when various explorers sent back reports of lands that were unknown to their respective societies. This expanded many people’s worldview and changed their thinking of what they knew.
  • What large-scale impact do you think these images of Earth may have had on society? These photographs and the resulting changes in many people’s attitudes towards the Earth inspired them to join the burgeoning environmental movement, which grew quickly in the 1970s. The first Earth Day took place in 1970 and involved millions of people across the country and world.
  • Does this rapid change in consciousness remind you of anything from your life? Do you recall any situations in which an image or experience led you to a significant change in attitude or consciousness? Students may mention the fast change of technology, social networking via computers, or smart phones like the iPhone. They may also have a more personal story, such as when they realized that a favorite movie character or setting was imaginary, etc.

Wrap Up: 
Remind the students that photographs can be powerful – so powerful that they can change people’s worldview. This was certainly true of the photos of Earth from outer space. Have students find a powerful photograph that changed their personal perspective on something and present their findings back to the class. Ask students why they selected their respective photo and share how this relates to people’s first impressions of Earth from outer space.


  1. Exhibit Students’ Work — Showcase students’ photo projects as an art show in your school. You could display the series of photos of Earth (from close-up to the whole planet) with a description of the activity. Then, exhibit the students’ photo series nearby.
  2. Interviews — Ask students to talk with people who remember seeing the first images of Earth from outer space. They might consider interviewing teachers, parents, grandparents, neighbors, or family friends. Do they remember their first reaction to the photos or the reactions of others? What influence do they feel these photos had on society? Students can report their stories back to the class in a written narrative or class presentation.



Students learned what perspective is and how it changes at different distances from the lens. They illustrated this through a photo series that was shared with the class. The first photos of Earth from outer space were shown and students learned the enormous influence these photos had on people’s changing attitudes towards our planet and how this factored into the growing environmental movement of the time.



Reproducible #1 – “Photographing Objects from Different Perspectives” Project Example

Project Example:

Frame 1


Frame 2


Frame 3


Frame 4


Frame 5


Frame 6












Reproducible # 2 – “View of Earth From Space; Lunar Orbiter”

Photo 1







Reproducible # 3 – “View of Earth From Space; Lunar Orbiter Zoomed In”

Photo 2












Reproducible # 4 – “View of Earth From Space; First Photo of Space”

Photo 3








Reproducible # 5 – “View of Earth From Space; TIRO”

Photo 4














Reproducible # 6 – “View of Earth From Space; The Blue Marble”

Photo 5   



Reproducible # 7 – “View of Earth From Space; Rising Earth”

Photo 6












Reproducible # 8 – “View of Earth From Space; Pale Blue Dot”

Photo 7














Excerpt from film chapter 8, "Changing Views of Earth"

Denis Hayes, The Organizer The image I think was maybe the most reproduced image in American history.  We suddenly realized that the earth was a very small thing.


Earth Days. Director Robert Stone. PBS/ American Experience, 2010.

“Outer Space.” Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. 1984.

“Perspective Entry.” Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 20 January 2010 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perspective.

“Foci Entry.” Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foci.

“Angle Entry.” Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/angle.

“The First Photo From Space.” Air & Space Smithsonian. Retrieved 20 January 2010 from    http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/16045732.html.

Earth Days. Director Robert Stone. PBS/American Experience, 2010.

“TIROS.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://nasascience.nasa.gov/missions/tiros.

“History of the Blue Marble.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/BlueMarble/BlueMarble_history.php

Earth Days. Director Robert Stone. PBS/ American Experience, 2010.

Earth Days. Director Robert Stone. PBS/ American Experience, 2010.

“Crew Conversations.” Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/moon/sfeature/sf_audio.html.

“A Pale Blue Dot.” A Big Sky Astronomy Club. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.bigskyastroclub.org/pale_blue_dot.html.

Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Ballantine Books, 1997.

Photo Credits: Stephanie Samaniego. Earth Day Network.

“Lunar Orbiter 1.” NASA Images Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.archive.org/details/289764main_GPN-2000-001588_full.

“Lunar Orbiter 1.” NASA Images Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.archive.org/details/289764main_GPN-2000-001588_full.

“First Photo of Space.” Air & Space Smithsonian. Retrieved 27 January 2010 http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/FEATURE-FirstPhoto.html?c=y&page=1.

  “TIROS.” NASA Images Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.archive.org/details/324271main_tiros_full.

  “The Blue Marble from Apollo 17.” NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.archive.org/details/VE-IMG-1597.

“Rising Earth.” NASA Images Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.archive.org/details/337051main_pg32_as08-14-2383_full.

“Pale Blue Dot.” NASA Images Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2010 from http://www.archive.org/details/PLAN-PIA00452.

Earth Days. Director Robert Stone. PBS/ American Experience, 2010.
























My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Do you remember the first Earth Day in 1970? When did you first become aware of environmental issues in your community or in your life? Share your story with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.