The Earth As Art

It's interesting that some of the deepest, most introspective quotes about Earth have come from astronauts. It's as though their literal long view—in the case of Apollo astronauts it was 230,000 miles distant—of our planet has given them not only a better understanding of this rock we live on, but also of humanity itself. Some examples:

This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It's lonely. It's small. It's isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we've got. —Scott Carpenter, Mercury 7

The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way—the way God intended it to be—by giving everybody that new perspective from out in space. —Roger B. Chaffee, Apollo 1

If somebody'd said before the flight, 'Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?' I would have said, 'No, no way.' But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried. — Alan Shepard, Apollo 14

There's clearly something inspiring, even transformative about seeing it all from way up high. In that way, it's a lot like art.   [slideshow:544]

Since July 23, 1972, USGS and NASA have been launching Landsite satellites into orbit to photograph the Earth in order to better understand land use and natural resources. Now, to celebrate the Landsat program's 40th anniversary, those two agencies have chosen more than 100 of the most interesting photographs in a series called Earth as Art. They added false color (produced digitally by sensors on the satellites) to highlight distinctive features and, in the process, made some amazing works of art.

The public was allowed to vote on the most beautiful, and 14,000 people managed to pare it down to five images. That's fine, but if good art was decided by democratic vote, some of the world's most respected artists wouldn't have made a living (yes, we're talking about the likes of Rothko). So, with no further ado, we submit these 29 images as proof that the Earth is truly the biggest, most beautiful canvas anywhere.