SUCH HOPEFUL MUSINGS DID NOT SIMPLY GROW out of the intoxicating media hype generated by the Apollo program; indeed, they echoed the sober speculations made over two decades earlier by British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle. "Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available -- once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes known -- a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose," Hoyle had stated.
As we close out the century, no such force has yet been unleashed by the Apollo pictures. MacLeish's
belief that they had the power to "remake our image of mankind" now seems almost laughably naive. When we gaze at these once-startling images, we may still feel
astounded by Earth's beauty or moved by its isolation, but our stubborn mental images of the world --
the images that influence our daily behavior -- are
unaffected by the momentary insights delivered by a
So, some three decades later, with all utopian dreams in deep storage, we are left only with a handful of unforgettable multibillion-dollar pictures seemingly taken from a God's-eye perspective. Leaving us to wonder who might be watching us out there, they make for a quixotic monument to the Cold War paranoia that originally engendered the space race and propelled a small group of men -- and their cameras -- to that big tripod in the sky. And ultimately they serve to remind us not only of the enormous power of photography, but also of its inescapable limitations.