Former astronaut William Anders, who took the iconic Earthrise photo, was killed in a plane crash in Washington

SEATTLE (AP) – William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic “Earthrise” photo showing the planet as a shadowy blue marble from space in 1968, was killed Friday when the plane he was piloting alone plunged into the waters from the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He was 90.

His son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, obituary for the Associated Press.

“The family is devastated,” he said. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him very much.”

William Anders, a retired major general, said the photograph was his most significant contribution to the space program along with making sure the Apollo 8 command module and service module worked.

The photograph, the first color image of Earth from space, is one of the most important photographs in modern history because of how it changed the way people saw the planet. The photo is credited with sparking the global environmental movement for showing how fragile Earth was isolated from space.

NASA Administrator and former Senator Bill Nelson said Anders embodied the lessons and purpose of exploration.

“He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped us all see something else: ourselves,” Nelson wrote on the X social platform.

Anders took the photo during the team’s fourth lunar orbit, switching from black and white to color film.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” Said Anders. “The World is coming up. Wow, is that beautiful!”

The Apollo 8 mission in December 1968 was the first human spaceflight to leave low-Earth orbit and travel to the moon and back. It was NASA’s most daring and perhaps most dangerous mission yet and one that set the stage for the Apollo moon landings seven months later.

“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.”

A report came in around 11:40 a.m. that an older model airplane had crashed into the water and sunk 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 found Friday afternoon.

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

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

William Anders said in a 1997 NASA oral history interview that he did not think the Apollo 8 mission was risk-free but that there were important national, patriotic and exploratory reasons to go ahead. He estimated that there was about a one in three chance that the team would not return and the same chance that the mission would succeed and the same chance that the mission would not start. He said he doubted that Christopher Columbus had sailed that he had a worse chance.

He told how the Earth looked fragile and physically insignificant to him, but he was at home.

“We were going backwards and upside down, we didn’t really see the Earth or the Sun, and when we rolled around and came around and saw the first Earth Rising,” he said. “That was definitely the highlight of it all. It was really a contrast to see this very detailed, colorful orb that looked like a Christmas tree ornament to me coming up over this very ugly lunar landscape.”

Anders said in retrospect that he wished he had taken more photos but Mission Commander Frank Borman was concerned about whether everyone was engaged and forced Pilot Anders and Command Module James A. Lovell, Jr. . go to sleep, “it probably made sense.”

Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii professor who has done extensive research on coastal erosion and climate change, recalls seeing the photo as a child.

“It opened my mind to realize that we are alone but we are together,” he said, adding that it still affects him today.

“It’s one of those images that never leaves my mind,” he said. “And I think that’s true in many, many people in many professions.”

Anders was a backup crew member for Apollo 11 and Gemini XI in 1966, but the Apollo 8 mission was the only time he flew into space.

Anders was born on October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong. At the time, his father was a Navy lieutenant aboard the USS Panay, which was a US gunboat in China’s Yangtze River.

Anders and his wife, Valerie, founded the Heritage Aviation Museum in Washington state in 1996. Now based at a regional airport in Burlington, it houses 15 aircraft, several antique military vehicles, a library and many artifacts donated by veterans. museum website. Two sons helped him run it.

The couple moved to Orcas Island, in the San Juan Archipelago, in 1993, and kept a second home in their hometown of San Diego, according to a biography on the museum’s website. They had six children and 13 grandchildren. Their current Washington home was in Anacortes.

Anders graduated from the Naval Academy in 1955 and served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force.

He later served on the Atomic Energy Commission, as US chairman of the joint US-USSR technology exchange program on nuclear fusion and fusion power, and as ambassador to Norway. He later worked for General Electric and General Dynamics, according to his NASA biography.


McAvoy reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writer Lisa Baumann contributed to this report.

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