Almost 14 months after the end of World War II and 11 years before the Sputnik launched, American military engineers and scientists used a Nazi V2 rocket launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to take a photo of the earth from space.
This was a time were NASA didn’t exist yet and the space race was decades away. The Nazis were the only people who were really thinking about spaceships at the time and a man by the name of Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun was obsessed with spaceships and was on a mission to build rockets at all costs.
In his 20’s and early 30’s, Von Braun was the central figure in Germany’s rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket that repeatedly bombed London during World War II. He was an SS officer for the Nazi regime and after the war, he and some select members of his rocket team were employed by United States as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip. More interesting is that Von Braun worked on the United States Army intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) program and went on to become one of the founding heads of the U.S. NASA program. Under NASA, under which he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.
Von Braun and the Americans kept working on these and other missile designs while launching the existing V-2s into space for testing. One of the engineers, Clyde Holliday, had developed a 35mm camera that took a photo every second and a half. None of the other scientists and engineers cared much about photography. They only wanted information about cosmic rays and aerodynamic performance.
In 1950, National Geographic showed this photo to the world for the first time, and Holliday wrote that this is “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a space ship.”
Below is a photo of the earth as the V2 Rocket acceded.