Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, who took 'Earthrise' photo, dead in plane crash

The last time humans set foot on the Moon was in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission, but Nasa has set its sights on sending new astronauts in the coming years


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Image used for illustrative purposes. Photo: AFP
Image used for illustrative purposes. Photo: AFP

Published: Sat 8 Jun 2024, 8:54 AM

William Anders, the former US astronaut who took the historic "Earthrise" photo during NASA's Apollo 8 mission in 1968, died in a plane crash on Friday at the age of 90, his family said.

Anders had been piloting a small plane which crashed off the coast of Washington state on Friday morning, his son told US media. Anders was alone in the plane.

Sheriff Eric Peter told AFP that teams were searching the area, but had not yet found a body.

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A member of the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, Anders became one of the first humans to reach the Moon, along with fellow Americans Frank Borman and James Lovell.

The crew orbited the Moon ten times without landing, before successfully returning to Earth on December 27, 1968.

On one of the lunar orbits, Anders captured a photo of the bright blue Earth against the vast darkness of space, with the Moon's cratered surface in the foreground.

The "Earthrise" photo is frequently listed in roundups of key historical images, and was included in Life Magazine's book "100 Photographs that Changed The World."

An original version of the photo sold at a Copenhagen auction in 2022 for 11,800 euros.

"In 1968, during Apollo 8, Bill Anders offered to humanity among the deepest of gifts an astronaut can give," NASA chief Bill Nelson wrote on social media platform X.

"He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves. He embodied the lessons and the purpose of exploration. We will miss him," Nelson added.

Born October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, Anders graduated from the US Naval Academy and later earned a masters degree in nuclear engineering.

After his time as an astronaut, Anders later held various technology-related government positions, notably becoming the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and later serving as the US ambassador to Norway.

In the early 1990s, he headed up the US defence and aerospace company General Dynamics as CEO and chairman, before retiring.

Of the Apollo 8 members, only Lovell is still alive.

Borman died in November 2023 at the age of 95.

Lovell, 96, was also a member of the Apollo 13 mission that was meant to land on the Moon, but experienced a near-catastrophe that was later made into a Hollywood film.

The last time humans set foot on the Moon was in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission, but NASA has set its sights on sending new astronauts, including the first woman and person of colour, in the coming years.


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