Look at a photograph of the cloud-covered sphere of earth, taken from space. It’s a supremely beautiful sight, despite its familiarity–a predominantly blue planet liberally swirled with wispy white, and then some muted green/brown accents that constitute the land on which we humans live.
But the sight wasn’t always so familiar. And I’m not talking about long ago, before we even knew the earth was round, or had mapped its landmasses. I’m talking about just a few decades ago, before the first pictures came back from the moon.
I’m not so very old, but when I grew up and artists or scientists drew conceptual drawings of the earth from outer space, the globe was always pictured as just that–a globe like those spinning ones in school, tethered to their metal stands (only, of course, without the metal stands). No clouds at all. Despite the fact that we all should have known better–all we had to do was look up at the sky most days to see those voluminous clouds–no one did seem to know better.
I still remember the shock of seeing those first photos (after you click on the link, scroll about halfway down the page for the photo) from the 1969 Apollo moon mission. Not only were the photos surprising, but it was surprising that they were surprising.
No one had thought of what, in retrospect, should have been obvious. The way the earth was thought to look was accepted knowledge, and no one managed to think outside the “box” of our earthbound perceptions. It’s easy to be critical in retrospect–how could “they” have been so stupid? (same for pre-9/11 prognostications about terrorist attacks, by the way). But to make the conceptual leap to actually think outside the box–now, that’s spectacularly hard.