Apollo 8 astronaut who took famous picture of Earth dies in plane crash

8 June 2024, 03:34

Plane Crash Astronaut Killed
Plane Crash Astronaut Killed. Picture: PA

William Anders was killed, aged 90, when the plane he was piloting crashed into water off Washington state.

Former astronaut William Anders was killed, aged 90, when the plane he was piloting crashed into water off the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

Retired Major General Anders took what became the famous Earthrise picture showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space in while on board Apollo 8 in 1968.

Confirming the news, his son, retired Air Force Lieutanant Colonel Greg Anders said: “The family is devastated. He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

The photograph, the first colour image of Earth from space, is credited with changing how humans viewed the planet and sparking the global environmental movement for showing how delicate and isolated Earth appeared from space.

Plane Crash Astronaut Killed
Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, speaks to reporters in front of the Saturn 5 Aft End in 2004 (AP)

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

He took the photo during the crew’s fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching from black-and-white to color film.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” he said. “There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

He said in an 1997 NASA oral history interview that he did not think the Apollo 8 mission was risk-free but there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons for going ahead.

He estimated there was about one in three chance that the crew would not make it back and the same chance the mission would be a success and the same chance that the mission would not start to begin with.

Obit Anders
NASA photo show William Anders on board Apollo 8 (NASA/AP)

“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.”

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 boldest and perhaps most dangerous voyage yet and one that set the stage for the Apollo moon landing seven months later.

Only the pilot was on board the Beech A45 airplane, according to the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).

The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the crash, which crashed and sank near the north end of Jones Island. Greg Anders confirmed his father’s body was recovered on Friday afternoon.

By Press Association

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