1970, Planet Earth: The
Imagination of the Global
Ursula K. Heise
The launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik-1 on 4 October 1957 changed not only the history of twentieth-century technology, but also politics, philosophy and aesthetics. It marked the start of a space race between the two Cold-War superpowers, with satellites put into orbit and the first humans, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov in 1961, and John Glenn in 1962, undertaking orbital flights. Satellites and cosmonauts sent back photographs of Earth taken from space that enabled humankind, for the first time in history, to look at its planet as a whole. This new perspective galvanised the public as the planet’s beauty, its systemic interconnectedness and its limits all visibly emerged in photographs of the earth rising above the moon that were sent back by the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, and culminated in the ‘Blue Planet’ image generated by Apollo 17 in 1972 (Figure 16.1). ‘No Science Fiction expected this Globe-Eye Consciousness/ Simultaneous with opening a hatch on Heaven’, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg comments in a poem on the occasion of the first moon-landing (Ginsberg 1984: 528). The emergent environmentalist movement seized on the symbol of Earth in space as an expression of the need for a new holistic consciousness, and featured it prominently at the celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970. In ecology as well as technology, the image of the ‘Blue Planet’ prompted new ways of thinking about the globe as a unitary system.
The utopian hopes that were sometimes connected with this icon undoubtedly arose in part because it seemed to offer an alternative view of a world bitterly divided between superpowers that fought proxy wars around the globe and kept each other in check with the threat of nuclear annihilation. But they also emerged because individuals were in fact becoming more connected with the rest of the globe through advances in communications and transportation technologies during the 1960s. The still relatively new medium of television broadcast images of remote places and cultures into the average family’s living-room even as the development of the jet airliner put distant areas of the globe within reach of tourist travel. These trends toward technological integration accelerated in subsequent decades, with the introduction of the personal computer and the Internet. At the same time, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the gradual transformation of China set the signal for the worldwide spread of capitalist economic structures that many consider the core of what we have come to call ‘globalisation’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, finance capital reappropriated the image of the Blue