The “Blue Marble” photo of Earth shot from Apollo 17, the last of NASA’s Apollo missions as the rocket ship was hurtling toward the moon, wasn’t the first satellite image of our planet, but it was the first full image—stunning in color—taken from some 18,000 miles in space, with the sun fully illuminating Earth. The south polar ice cap, despite heavy cloud cover, was clearly captured, and the photo showed almost the entire coastline of Africa, extending from Antarctica to the Mediterranean Sea. Most of us who saw it at that time were stunned with how much water covered our planet.
This one single dramatic image eventually gave the name “Blue Planet” to our Earth, due obviously to the abundant water sources we could see on its surface. The photo was taken on December 17, 1972 and for all of us at that time, caught up in the exploits of the space discovery, it forever altered the comprehension of our planet. Now, when I think of Earth, and when hundreds of millions of others think of Earth, this is the iconic image that comes to mind.
This is an article about the global clean water crisis, about clean water, about water from a tap or from a glass, hopefully free of pathogens that bring disease. This is an article about clay pots and large plantain leaves and cupped dried gourds that hold rainfall hopefully untainted by acid effluvium. This is an article about pole wells drilled beneath polluted soil, and the unintended arsenic poisoning of villagers. This is an article about drying water reservoirs, about waste and sewage and chemicals polluting streams and rivers and major waterways. It is about encroaching urban development laying acres of implacable concrete and miles of roadways over land where rains can now no longer replenish water tables. It is an article about taking responsibility for that Blue Planet spinning alone, and as far as science now knows, unparalleled in our universe. No liquid water has been confirmed as existing on any other planet in our solar system. As yet, not a single drop of water has been detected anywhere in interstellar space. Scientists have determined that only a planet of the right mass, the right chemical composition and the right location can support liquid water; in other words, a planet like ours, the Blue Planet, this Earth.