Former astronaut William Anders died: Author of the most famous space photo in history

Former astronaut William Anders passed away at the age of 91: the author of probably the most famous space photo in history. He died in a plane crash.

William Anders

William Anders was born in 1933 in Hong Kong to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Arthur Anders, who was serving in the military there at the time. After the beginning of the Japan-China War, the family moved to the United States. 

In 1955, Anders graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree, after which he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served several years as a fighter pilot. In 1963, Anders applied to NASA and was selected for the third group of astronauts.

William Anders

While at NASA, Anders was involved in the field of dosimetry, radiation exposure and environmental control. In September 1966, he was assigned as the backup pilot for the Gemini 11 mission. His next assignment was the Apollo 8 mission, which was to test a lunar module in Earth orbit. Anders was to operate it. However, the first flight copy of the lunar module turned out to be extremely crude and required many modifications. As a result, NASA changed the mission plan. Instead of testing the lunar module, the Apollo 8 crew was tasked with flying around the Moon and returning to Earth.

Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968, and three days later it entered orbit around the moon. Although Anders never got to fly the lunar module, he had the honor of taking one of the most famous photographs in history. It shows the Earth rising above the lunar horizon. The photo instantly became iconic and played a major role in the formation of various ecological movements.

Earthrise over Moon. The photo was taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission. Source: NASA

In 1969 Anders resigned from NASA, concluding that he was unlikely to receive an appointment as lunar expedition commander before the Apollo program closed. Subsequently, he was in public service, served as U.S. Ambassador to Norway, and held executive positions in major corporations.

Despite his advanced age, Anders retained his passion for flying and flew single-engine airplanes intensively. His total flight time was over 8,000 hours. On June 7, Anders headed for another flight. The flight took place northwest of Seattle. According to eyewitnesses, the T-34 airplane piloted by the former astronaut fell into the water and collapsed. Rescuers later found Anders’ body and confirmed his death.

Of the 24 astronauts who flew to the moon between 1969 and 1972, 6 are now alive. The youngest of them is 88 years old.