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William Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut known for Earthrise photo, dies in plane crash

William Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut known for Earthrise photo, dies in plane crash

Retired Maj Gen William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the famous Earthrise photo showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space in 1968, was killed Friday when the plane he was piloting alone plummeted into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He was 90.

“The family is devastated,” said his son, retired air force Lt Col Greg Anders, who confirmed the death to the Associated Press. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

The former astronaut had said the photo was his most significant contribution to the space program, given the ecological philosophical impact it had, along with making sure the Apollo 8 command module and service module worked.

A report came in around 11.40am that an older-model plane had crashed into the water and sunk near the north end of Jones Island, the San Juan county sheriff Eric Peter said.

The ‘Earthrise’ photo taken by Anders.View image in fullscreen

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

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

William Anders said in a 1997 Nasa oral-history interview that he hadn’t thought the Apollo 8 mission was risk-free but that there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons for going ahead. He had estimated there was about a one-in-three chance that the crew wouldn’t make it back, the same chance the mission would be a success and the same chance the mission wouldn’t start. He said he suspected Christopher Columbus had sailed with worse odds.

Anders had once recounted the experience as part of a BBC documentary on the mission. He recalled how Earth had looked fragile and seemingly physically insignificant, yet was home.

After two or three orbits around the moon, he and the crew began shooting photographs.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Black-and-white photo of three smiling white men in bright white bulky suits, indoors.View image in fullscreen

“I don’t know who said it, maybe all of us said: ‘Oh my God. Look at that!’” Anders said.

“And up came the Earth. We had had no discussion on the ground, no briefing, no instructions on what to do. I jokingly said, ‘Well, it’s not on the flight plan,’ and the other two guys were yelling at me to give them cameras. I had the only color camera with a long lens. So I floated a black-and-white over to Borman. I can’t remember what Lovell got. They were all yelling for cameras and we started snapping away.”

The photo of the thrilling swirl of life that is Earth on a backdrop of black space and a foreground of dull, lifeless moonscape became an icon of space travel and the defining image of our living world and its fragility.

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

Anders and his wife, Valerie, founded the Heritage Flight Museum in Washington state in 1996. It is now based at a regional airport in Burlington and features 15 aircraft, several antique military vehicles, a library and many artifacts donated by veterans, according to the museum’s website. Two of their sons helped them 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.

Associated Press contributed reporting

Source: theguardian.com