William Anders, NASA Astronaut and US Air Force Major General, dies at 90

Anders took the iconic image, “Earthrise,” during the Apollo 8 mission.
By | Published: June 7, 2024 | Last updated on June 8, 2024

William “Bill” Anders, former Apollo 8 astronaut, died in a plane crash on Friday, June 7, 2024. Anders was piloting a small aircraft in Roche Harbor, Washington State. The craft dove into the water and sank, according to a San Juan County press release.  The death was confirmed by his son, Greg, as reported by Richard Goldstein for The New York Times.

Anders flew the first crewed voyage around the Moon during the Apollo 8 mission, which included Anders, Frank Borman, and James Lovell. Together, the astronauts orbited the Moon for 20 hours and were the first humans to view the Moon’s far side.

Astronaut Anders suiting up for the Apollo 8 mission. Credit: NASA

Anders was born on October 17, 1933. In 1955, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and in 1962 received a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. A year later Anders joined NASA. He was selected as a backup pilot for Gemini XI and the Apollo 11 flights. The Apollo 8 mission was Anders’s only mission into space.

A Christmas ornament

The Apollo 8 Mission’s ‘Earthrise” as photographed by NASA astronaut, William Anders. Credit: NASA

The famous “Earthrise” image of a gibbous, marble-like Earth rising over the Moon’s horizon was taken on Christmas Eve 1968 by Anders during the Apollo 8 mission. “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…,” said Anders in an interview with Paul Rollins for NASA’s Oral History Project. Anders admitted to Rollins during the interview that his most significant contribution during Apollo 8 was taking the Earthrise image, “which had a lot of ecological and philosophical impact at the time.”