William Anders: Astronaut who took Earthrise photo dies in plane crash

The Apollo 8 astronaut made sure command and service module worked on December 1968 space mission

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts-Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders-held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis.

Image Credit: NASA
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William Anders, the Apollo 8 astronaut who took the historic Earthrise photo showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space in December 1968, was killed on Friday when the plane he was piloting alone crashed into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

He was 90. His son, Greg Anders, confirmed the death to the Associated Press.

“The family is devastated,” Mr Anders said. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

Maj Gen Anders said the photo was his most significant contribution to the space programme, given the ecological and philosophical impact it had, along with making sure the Apollo 8 command module and service module worked.

A report was made at about 11.40am that an older-model plane crashed into the water and sank near the north end of Jones Island, San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter said.

Only the pilot was on board the Beech A45 at the time, according to the Federal Aviation Association.

Maj Gen Anders said in an 1997 Nasa oral history interview that he did not think the Apollo 8 mission was risk-free but there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons for going ahead.

He estimated there was about one in three chance that the crew would not return to Earth, the same chance the mission would be a success and the same chance that the mission would not start.

He recounted how Earth looked fragile and seemingly physically insignificant, yet was home.

“We’d been going backwards and upside down, didn’t really see the Earth or the Sun, and when we rolled around and came around and saw the first Earthrise,” he said.

“That certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing. To see this very delicate, colourful orb which to me looked like a Christmas tree ornament coming up over this very stark, ugly lunar landscape really contrasted.”

The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the crash.

Updated: June 09, 2024, 8:48 PM