Astronaut Who Took 'Earthrise' Pic Dies in Plane Crash

Former Apollo 8 crew member William Anders, 90, killed when plane went down in San Juan Islands
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 8, 2024 8:30 AM CDT
Astronaut Who Took 'Earthrise' Pic Dies in Plane Crash
This Dec. 24, 1968, file photo made available by NASA shows Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. Retired Maj. Gen. William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic "Earthrise" photo showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space, was killed Friday...   (William Anders/NASA via AP, File)

William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic "Earthrise" photo showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space in 1968, was killed Friday when the plane he was piloting alone plummeted into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He was 90. His son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, confirmed the death to the AP. "The family is devastated," he said. "He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly." William Anders, a retired major general, has said the photo was his most significant contribution to the space program, along with making sure the Apollo 8 command module and service module worked. The photo, the first color image of Earth from space, is one of the most important photos in modern history for the way it changed how humans viewed the planet.

A report came in around 11:40am Friday 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. Greg Anders confirmed to KING-TV that his father's body was recovered Friday afternoon. Only the pilot was on board the Beech A45 airplane at the time, according to the Federal Aviation Association. The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the crash. Anders was born on October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1955 and served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force. Anders later served on the Atomic Energy Commission, as the US chair of the joint US-USSR technology exchange program for nuclear fission and fusion power, and as ambassador to Norway. He later worked for General Electric and General Dynamics, according to his NASA biography.

Anders served as backup crew for Apollo 11 and for Gemini XI in 1966, but the Apollo 8 mission was the only time he flew to space. 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 [we] saw the first Earthrise," he said. "That certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing. To see this very delicate, colorful orb, which to me looked like a Christmas tree ornament, coming up over this very stark, ugly lunar landscape really contrasted." Anders said in retrospect he wished he'd taken more photos, but Frank Borman, the mission's commander, was concerned about whether everyone was rested and forced Anders to sleep, "which probably made sense."

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Anders snapped the photo during the crew's fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching from black-and-white to color film. "Oh my God, look at that picture over there!" Anders said. "There's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!" The photo is credited with sparking the global environmental movement for showing how delicate and isolated Earth appeared from space. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Anders "embodied the lessons and the purpose of exploration." "He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves," Nelson wrote on X. "Bill Anders forever changed our perspective of our planet and ourselves with his famous Earthrise photo on Apollo 8," Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, also a retired NASA astronaut, wrote on X. "He inspired me and generations of astronauts and explorers. My thoughts are with his family and friends." More here.

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