Bill Anders, the Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic ‘Earthrise’ photograph, has died in a plane crash

Bill Anders, the Apollo 8 astronaut who was one of the first people to orbit the moon and took the first iconic photograph of Earth rising above the lunar surface, died on Friday when the plane he was piloting crashed in near the offshore San Juan Islands. of Washington state. He was 90.

He was flying solo when the plane, a Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, crashed into the water near Roche Harbor, Wash., at about 11:40 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said.

“The family is devastated,” said his son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, with the Associated Press. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him very much.”

After a search with helicopters and boats, a state dive team recovered the pilot’s body, said Petty Officer Annika Hirschler, a spokeswoman for the United States Coast Guard.

The accident is being investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Three astronauts in space suits

Bill Anders, center, left with Apollo 8 crew Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman before their mission in 1968. (NASA)

On December 24, 1968, Anders and two other astronauts aboard Apollo 8, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, became the first people to orbit the Moon. Anders read from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve broadcast live from space.

Anders and his colleagues were also the first to see the blue Earth rising above the gray surface of the moon.

As the spacecraft rotated, Anders looked out the side window and was taking photos as Earth emerged from behind the moon.

“Oh, my God, look at that picture over there!” he exclaimed in a recorded exchange. “The World is coming up. Wow, is that beautiful!”

That moment, captured on film, was the iconic photo “Earthrise.” The image attracted people around the world and became a profound symbol of the environmental movement, showing the fragility of life on earth in the vastness of space.

Read more: Download the big picture on Earth Day

Looking out from the spacecraft, Anders later said, Earth “looked like a fragile Christmas tree ornament. And I thought to myself, you know, it’s too bad we don’t treat it more like an ornament Christmas tree.”

The photograph had a great impact on society. Drawing on the perspective captured in the photograph, environmentalists organized the first Earth Day in 1970.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Anders “provided to humanity one of the most profound gifts an astronaut can give.”

“He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped us all see something else: ourselves. He covered the lessons and purpose of exploration. We will miss him,” Nelson wrote in a social media post.

The International Astronomical Union commemorated the taking of the photograph in 2018 by naming one of the lunar craters in Anders’ Earthrise.

In NASA video interview in his later years, Anders reflected on the impact of seeing the Earth from that perspective on his thinking about people and the planet.

Read more: For Apollo crews, small world

“It’s too bad, you know, we’re shooting missiles and rockets and what not at each other in this little place we call home. It is the only place in the universe for us humans,” he said. “It’s too bad we don’t treat him a little better.”

When he snapped the image with a Hasselblad camera, he saw the Earth emerging not above the moon but to its side. In the original orientation of the photo, the moon is on the right. But the image is usually framed with the lunar surface at the bottom, making the Earth appear to be rising.

In one interview, Anders said the photo “started the environmental movement”.

“It helped to convey that not only is the Earth delicate and fragile, but that it is also very finite,” he said. “All the views of Earth from the moon have allowed mankind to … realize that we are all stuck together on one dinky little planet. And we better treat him and ourselves better, or we won’t be here very long.”

Anders was the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 8 mission. In a 1997 interview about the space program, he said he guessed before his flight that “we had a one in three chance of a successful mission.”

William A. Anders was born in 1933 in Hong Kong to a military family. His father was an officer of the United States Navy.

Anders attended Grossmont High School in El Cajon in San Diego County. He went on to the Naval Academy, then commissioned the Air Force.

He retired from the Air Force reserve as a major general. But he didn’t stop flying, even decades after he returned from space.

Bill Anders stands next to an airplane.Bill Anders stands next to an airplane.

Anders at the San Diego County Ramona Airport in 2006. (John Gastal/San Diego Union-Tribune)

After Apollo, Anders pursued an executive career spanning both the public and private sectors. Known for his gruff manner and meticulous attention to detail, he served as executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission and first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Later he became ambassador to Norway, vice president of General Electric Co. and executive vice president at Textron Inc. In the early 1990s, he was chairman and chief executive officer of General Dynamics, overseeing belt-tightening at the defense contractor.

In 1996, Anders and his wife co-founded the Heritage Flight Museum, located near Skagit Regional Airport in Burlington, Wash. In early October, Anders and his son Greg – who is now the museum’s executive director – flew – a pair of T. -34 aircraft in a formation display above the museum.

Anders and his wife, Valerie, split their time between Washington and the San Diego community of Point Loma. He is survived by six children and more than a dozen grandchildren.

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, said that Anders through the photograph “Earthrise” forever changed our planet and ourselves.”

“He inspired me and generations of astronauts and explorers. My thoughts are with his family and friends,” Kelly wrote in a social media post.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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