Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders Who Took ‘Earthrise’ Photo Dies Aged 90

Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders Who Took ‘Earthrise’ Photo Dies Aged 90

Photo made available by NASA shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission, on Dec. 24, 1968. (William Anders/NASA/AP)

Caden Pearson

Caden Pearson

6/7/2024

Updated: 6/8/2024

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Maj. Gen. William A. Anders, USAF (Ret.), an astronaut who was part of the first Apollo 8 manned mission to the moon, died on Friday at the age of 90 while piloting an aircraft that crashed off the Washington coast.
His son confirmed the news, sharing with NPR that his father was flying solo in a Beech A45 plane when it descended into the waters near Jones Island, Washington.
“Our family is devastated. He was a great man and a great pilot,” said Greg Anders.
The National Transportation Safety Board has announced an investigation into cause of the crash.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson paid tribute to Mr. Anders, recalling the historic “Earthrise” photograph taken from lunar orbit during the Apollo 8 mission.
“In 1968, during Apollo 8, Bill Anders offered to humanity among the deepest of gifts an astronaut can give. He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves,” Mr. Nelson wrote on social media platform X.
Mr. Nelson also said that Mr. Anders embodied the spirit of exploration and the lessons it imparts. “We will miss him,” he wrote.
The “Earthrise” image, showing Earth rising over the lunar horizon like a blue marble in the vastness of space, became a powerful symbol for the environmental movement. It inspired the first “Earth Day” in 1970 and was widely celebrated, including by being featured on stamps and in Life magazine’s 2003 book “100 Photographs That Changed the World.”
The Apollo 8 mission, which launched astronauts Frank Borman as mission commander, James A. Lovell Jr. as command module pilot, and William Anders as lunar module pilot from Cape Kennedy at the end of 1968, marked a significant milestone as the first crewed mission to leave Earth’s orbit.
Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. The crew remained in orbit about 70 miles above the moon’s surface for around 20 hours, completing 10 orbits. That evening, the crew held a memorable live telecast showing pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft.
During the Christmas Eve telecast, the crew was called on to say a few “appropriate” words that would be heard by millions across the planet. The crew chose to read the first chapter of Genesis from the Bible, each reading a few lines.
Maj. Gen. Anders was the first to speak: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”
The three astronauts each proceeded to read a Bible verse.
Apollo 8 Commander Col. Frank Borman leads the way as he, and fellow astronauts Command Module Pilot Capt. James A Lovell Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot Maj. William A. Anders head to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Dec 21, 1968. (NASA/AP)

Apollo 8 Commander Col. Frank Borman leads the way as he, and fellow astronauts Command Module Pilot Capt. James A Lovell Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot Maj. William A. Anders head to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Dec 21, 1968. (NASA/AP)

When they finished reading, Col. Borman wished viewers, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.” 
The crew safely returned to Earth on Dec. 27, 1968. The command module splashed down in the Pacific southwest of Hawaii, and about an hour and a half later, both the crew and spacecraft were brought aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10). The mission was a resounding success, and the astronauts were celebrated with parades in New York, Chicago, and Washington, as well as honored in a joint session of Congress.
Mr. Anders was born on Oct. 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, where he was raised by his parents. His father, Lt. Arthur Anders, was a Navy officer stationed in China. In 1956, Mr. Anders earned his pilot wings, marking the beginning of his distinguished career. He later became a member of NASA’s third class of astronauts in 1963, where he focused on space radiation.
Upon his retirement from both NASA and the Air Force in 1969, Maj. Gen. Anders continued his dedication to public service by taking on the role of executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, providing advice to the president on aeronautical and space matters.
Astronaut Maj. Gen. William Anders arrives at the 6th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 22, 2009. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Astronaut Maj. Gen. William Anders arrives at the 6th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 22, 2009. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Caden Pearson

Caden Pearson

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Caden Pearson is a reporter covering U.S. and world news.

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