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William Anders, Apollo 8 Astronaut Who Took ‘Earthrise’ Photo, Dies In Plane Crash

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Retired astronaut William Anders, one of the first three humans to orbit the moon, who captured the “Earthrise” photo during NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, died on Friday when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Washington state, local media reported.

Anders, 90, was the only person aboard the aircraft when it went down off the coast of Jones Island, part of the San Juan Islands archipelago between Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, The Seattle Times reported, citing his son, Greg.

According to television station KCPQ-TV, a Fox affiliate in Tacoma, Anders, a resident of San Juan County, was at the controls of a vintage Air Force single-engine T-34 Mentor that he owned.

Video footage showed on KCPQ showed a plane plunging from the skies in a steep dive before slamming into the water just offshore.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for confirmation of the crash.

A US Naval Academy graduate and Air Force pilot, Anders joined NASA in 1963 as a member of the third group of astronauts. He did not go into space until Dec. 21, 1968, when Apollo 8 lifted off on the first crewed mission to leave Earth orbit and travel 240,000 miles (386,000 km) to the moon.

Anders was the “rookie” on the crew, alongside Frank Borman, the mission commander, and James Lovell, who had flown with Borman on Gemini 7 in 1965 and later commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13.

Apollo 8, originally scheduled for 1969, was pushed forward because of concerns the Russians were accelerating their own plans for a trip around the moon by the end of 1968. That gave the crew only several months to train for the historic but highly risky mission.

During the flight, Anders captured what became one of history’s most iconic photographs, an image of Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

Did someone say #WorldPhotographyDay? We love planet-size celebrations! Here’s one of the most iconic shots of our big, blue marble: Earth as seen by the crew of Apollo 8. https://t.co/7rukuVsfrk

Once @NASAArtemis I reaches the Moon, we’ll have new Earthrise images to share. pic.twitter.com/dLTTX3V0tu

— NASA (@NASA) August 19, 2022

He also played a key role in another indelible episode from that Christmas Eve mission – leading off as the crew read from the Book of Genesis while Apollo 8 transmitted images of the lunar surface to Earth.

The three astronauts were greeted as national heroes when they splashed down three days later in the Pacific Ocean and were feted as Time magazine’s “Men of the Year.”

Their mission paved the way to the first moon landing by Apollo 11 seven months later, assuring U.S. victory in the Cold War “space race” with the Soviets. But it was also hailed for lifting national spirits at the end of one of America’s most traumatic years, in which Americans were shaken by the war in Vietnam, and riots and assassinations at home.

 Retired astronaut William Anders, one of the first three humans to orbit the moon, who captured the “Earthrise” photo during NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, died on Friday when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Washington state.    

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