Iconic Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders Dies in Plane Crash at 90

Iconic Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders Dies in Plane Crash at 90

William Anders, famed Apollo 8 astronaut and photographer of the iconic “Earthrise” image, has died at 90 in a plane crash off the San Juan Islands. His legacy in space exploration and environmental awareness endures.

Seattle, (Bollywood Fever): William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut renowned for capturing the iconic “Earthrise” photo of Earth from space in 1968, tragically died on Friday when his plane crashed 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 Associated Press. “The family is devastated,” he said. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

William Anders, a retired major general, considered the “Earthrise” photo his most significant contribution to the space program, along with ensuring the functionality of the Apollo 8 command module and service module.

The photograph, the first color image of Earth from space, is one of the most pivotal in modern history for altering humanity’s view of the planet. It is credited with igniting the global environmental movement by highlighting Earth’s fragility and isolation. NASA Administrator and former Senator Bill Nelson praised Anders, stating, “He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves.”

Anders took the photo during the crew’s fourth orbit of the moon, quickly switching from black-and-white to color film. He exclaimed, “Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

The Apollo 8 mission in December 1968 was the first human spaceflight to leave low-Earth orbit and travel to the moon and back. This mission set the stage for the Apollo moon landing seven months later.

“Bill Anders forever changed our perspective of our planet and ourselves with his famous Earthrise photo on Apollo 8,” wrote Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut. “He inspired me and generations of astronauts and explorers. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”

San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter reported a plane crash around 11:40 a.m., with the aircraft sinking near the north end of Jones Island. Greg Anders confirmed to KING-TV that his father’s body was recovered Friday afternoon. The Federal Aviation Association noted that Anders was the sole occupant of the Beech A45 airplane at the time. The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the crash.

In a 1997 NASA oral history interview, William Anders reflected on the risks of the Apollo 8 mission, estimating a one in three chance of not returning, a one in three chance of success, and a one in three chance the mission wouldn’t proceed. He likened these odds to those faced by Christopher Columbus.

He described the awe of seeing Earth from space: “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. 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.”

Though he wished he had taken more photos, mission Commander Frank Borman emphasized the importance of rest for Anders and Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr.

Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii professor specializing in coastal erosion and climate change, recalled the impact of the photo on him as a child. “It just opened up my brain to realize that we are alone but we are together,” he said. “It’s one of those images that never leaves my mind.”

William Anders served as backup crew for Apollo 11 and Gemini XI in 1966. The Apollo 8 mission was his sole spaceflight.

Born on October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, Anders’s father was a Navy lieutenant aboard the USS Panay, a U.S. gunboat in China’s Yangtze River. William and his wife, Valerie, founded the Heritage Flight Museum in Washington state in 1996. The museum, based at a regional airport in Burlington, features 15 aircraft, several antique military vehicles, a library, and many artifacts donated by veterans.

The couple moved to Orcas Island in the San Juan archipelago in 1993 and maintained a second home in San Diego. They had six children and 13 grandchildren, residing in Anacortes, Washington.

Anders graduated from the Naval Academy in 1955 and served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force. His career included roles on the Atomic Energy Commission, as the U.S. chairman of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. technology exchange program for nuclear fission and fusion power, and as ambassador to Norway. He also worked for General Electric and General Dynamics.

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