William Anders biography

Perhaps the most famous picture from the US space program is not the shot of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, but the image of Earth, seen rising above the lunar horizon, an image sent from space on December 24 1968 by the team. of Apollo 8 – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.

The “Earthrise” photo, which was not part of the mission’s scheduled protocol, was taken by Anders, who has died aged 90. And he was the one who first read the Book of Genesis while they were being transmitted live from the orbit of the moon on Christmas Eve.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” it read. “And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Anders later spoke about the ecological impact of the image, which contributed to a change in perspective that the poet Archibald MacLeish expressed in the New York Times the following day, Christmas Day. The photograph enabled us, wrote MacLeish, “to see the Earth as it is, small blue and beautiful in that eternal silence in which it floats”.

Although Anders was not the household name of some of the better known astronauts, after Apollo 8 he had one of the most influential careers outside the space program, in government service and as a corporate executive for contractors in the defense and space industry.

The three Apollo 8 crew members were among those recruited after the success of the original seven “Right Stuff” mercury astronauts. Anders applied in 1963 to participate in the third intake of space pilots, and was assigned the critical mission, which became the cornerstone of the US space effort.

Coming as it did at a time when the entire rationale of the “space race” was being questioned, the success of Apollo 8 revitalized NASA and paved the way for humans to set foot on the moon.

The year before, however, the US and Soviet space programs had suffered disasters. In January 1967, the Apollo 1 capsule burst into flames on the launch pad, killing its three astronauts. In April, the parachute on the craft Soyuz 1 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov failed to open on re-entry, and he fell to his death. The race to the moon continued, but the two unmanned orbital flights launched by the Soviets in 1968 failed. NASA came back with a new Saturn V rocket test (which would eventually take Apollo 8 into space), and, in October 1968, the 11-day Earth orbit of Apollo 7. The stage was set for Apollo 8, which, after a. A 66-hour, 230,000-mile journey entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. His crew were the first people to see the dark side of the moon.

Bill was the prototypical all-American boy, despite being born in Hong Kong, where his father, Arthur “Tex” Anders, was a naval lieutenant aboard a gunboat patrolling the Yangtze river. The infant Bill and his mother, Muriel (née Adams), fled China when the Japanese attacked Nanjing. During the attack, his father’s boat came under Japanese fire. With the captain badly wounded, Tex, wounded himself, took command and defeated the Japanese, earning the Navy Cross.

Back in the US, attending Grossmont High School in San Diego County, California, Bill grew up fitting the astronaut model. He achieved the rank of Life Scout, the second highest in the Boy Scouts, and then won an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. When he graduated in 1955, however, he transferred to the air force, attracted by the lure of flight and the prospect of faster advancement through the newest military services.

He married Valerie Hoard, whom he met in Annapolis, soon after graduation, and was assigned to fly interceptors for the Air Defense Command, providing protection against attacks by Soviet bombers.

Assigned to Wright-Patterson air force base in Ohio, Anders studied for a master’s degree in nuclear engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He would later play a key role in the fundraising that allowed the founding of Wright State University.

His experience with reactor shielding and radiation effects at the Air Force Base Laboratory in New Mexico was a key factor in his selection as an astronaut – he was responsible for investigating the effects of radiation on the space capsules and their crews.

After serving as a backup pilot for the Apollo 11 mission, Anders left NASA to serve as executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the President’s advisory board. In 1973, he was appointed to the Atomic Energy Commission, and later chaired the joint US/USSR exchange program on fission and fusion power. When nuclear regulation was reorganized in 1975, President Gerald Ford made him the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. When his term ended, Anders, of Norwegian origin, was appointed ambassador to Norway.

He left government service in 1977, was a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, then joined General Electric (GE) as general manager of its nuclear products division. After a stint at Harvard Business School’s management high school, GE put him in charge of its aircraft equipment division. He left in 1984 to head the aerospace business of the Textron conglomerate, rising to senior executive vice president in charge of operations for the corporation.

In 1990, he became vice chairman of General Dynamics, another major aerospace contractor, and the following year was named chairman and chief executive. To hire him, General Dynamics had to agree to let Anders serve as an assistant test pilot for the F-16 fighter they were developing for the air force.

Anders retired as a major general in the air force reserve in 1988, and from industry in 1994. In 1996, he founded the Heritage Aviation Museum in Washington state. He flew his own airplanes in races and air shows, and at various times held six flight records. A particular fan of the second world war P-51 Mustang era, he and Borman, who re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in 1968 together traveling 25,000 miles per hour, displays their propeller-driven Mustangs side by side.

Anders was flying Beech A45 when the plane came down off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He was killed in the accident.

Valerie is survived by four sons, Alan, Glen, Greg and Eric, and two daughters, Gayle and Diana.

• William Allison Anders, astronaut and businessman, born 17 October 1933; died 7 June 2024

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