National Geographic : 1996 Nov
150°W airport runways, the Great Wall seems to be made largely of materials that have the same color as the surrounding soil. Despite persistent stories that it can be seen from the moon, the Great Wall is almost invisible from only 180 miles up! Because of nearly continuous smog over Beijing, there is no good photograph of the Chinese capital from the space shuttle. Many of the great cities of coastal China hide from our cam eras under a similar blanket of smoke from soft-coal fires. Even in the most inhospitable part of China, the Taklimakan Desert, there are cities and farms. During one orbit the sun reflected off irrigation canals. Ear-shaped Lop Nur, a dry lake in Xinjiang Province, marks the end of the desert. Orbit:The Astronauts' View of Home 34-Year Time Exposure On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth-and to photograph it. He used a $45 camera that he bought in a drugstore. Since then astronauts have taken some 300,000 photo graphs of the planet, most of which are plotted in the map above. Red dots indicate page numbers of photo graphs appearing in this article and in Geoguide. Most missions are launched due east from Florida, con centrating the photos in the tropical regions; the blue line traces a typical orbit. Some missions reach higher latitudes, widening the coverage to include most of the inhabited Earth.