Former Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders dies in plane crash

Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, who captured one of the most iconic images of the space age – a mesmerizing view of the blue and white globe of Earth rising above the cratered horizon of the Moon in the deep black of space – died Friday when a young plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Washington state. He was 90 years old.

His son, Greg Anders, confirmed the death to CBS News, saying the plane that crashed belonged to his father.

Maj. The general. William Anders arrives at the 6th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 1, 2017. December 22, 2009, in Beverly Hills, California.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration told CBS News in a statement that the Beech A45 with only the pilot on board crashed into the waters off Roche Harbor, located on San Juan Island, around 11:40 a.m. local time.

San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter told CBS News that crews were searching the area but had not yet found any bodies.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

Anders, born in Hong Kong in October. Born November 17, 1933, he attended the United States Naval Academy and the Air Force Institute of Technology before being selected as an astronaut in NASA’s space program in 1964, completing more than 6,000 flight hours, according to his NASA biography.

In addition to being the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8, he also served as a backup pilot on the Gemini XI and Apollo 11 flights.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson wrote on social media Friday evening that Anders “traveled to the threshold of the Moon” on the Apollo 8 mission “and helped us all see something else: ourselves. He embodied the lessons and purpose of exploration. I miss him.”

Photographed on Christmas Eve 1968 as Anders, Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman and Jim Lovell orbited the Moon, the image is known today simply as “Earthrise”, a unique sight in its kind of planet Earth suspended in the immensity of space which quickly became a symbol of the environmental movement.

This view of the ascending Earth guided the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the fourth near orbit. The photo is shown here in its original orientation, although it is more often seen with the lunar surface at the bottom of the photo. Earth is about five degrees to the left of the horizon in the photo. The unnamed surface features on the left are near the eastern edge of the Moon, as seen from Earth. The lunar horizon is about 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. The height of the photographed area on the lunar horizon is approximately 175 kilometers.


“The most impressive aspect of the flight was [when] we were in lunar orbit,” Anders said in a NASA oral history interview. “We were going backwards and upside down, we hadn’t really seen the Earth or the sun, and when we Went back and came back and saw the first rise of the Earth, it was certainly by far the most impressive thing.

He described the home planet as “a very delicate, colorful orb, which to me looked like a Christmas tree ornament, looming over this very stark and ugly lunar landscape.”

Anders, Borman and Lovell were the first humans to leave Earth’s orbit, making 10 trips around the moon on a Christmas flight that helped set the stage for the Apollo 11 moon landing the following year .

Many space insiders and historians consider Apollo 8 to be the most daring of all the Apollo missions. The astronauts were the first to launch atop a massive Saturn 5 rocket, the most powerful in the world, and the first to visit another world, even remotely.

Mike Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot, once said that Apollo 8 was the most important mission.

“Well, I’ve thought about it and I’m trying to be objective,” Anders said. “I certainly think it was very important. I think the moon landing was very important… We were the first to leave our home planet, they were the first to go to… another planet… To say that Apollo 8 is more significant, I’m not ready to say that.

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