Astronaut who took ‘Earthrise’ photo dies in plane crash

Published June 9, 2024
A Nov 21, 1968, file photo shows the Apollo 8 crew 
(left to right) — commander Frank Borman, lunar module pilot William Anders, and command module pilot James Lovell in front of the Apollo mission’s simulator during training.—AFP
A Nov 21, 1968, file photo shows the Apollo 8 crew (left to right) — commander Frank Borman, lunar module pilot William Anders, and command module pilot James Lovell in front of the Apollo mission’s simulator during training.—AFP

WASHINGTON: William Anders, the former US astronaut who took the historic “Earthrise” photo from space over 55 years ago, 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. His body was later recovered by a dive team, The Seattle Times reported, quoting a Coast Guard spokesperson.

A member of the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, Anders became one of the first humans to orbit the Moon, along with fellow Americans Frank Borman and James Lovell. The crew circled the Moon 10 times without landing, before successfully returning to Earth on Dec 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.

“We’d been going backwards and upside down, didn’t really see the Earth or the Sun, and when we rolled around and came around and saw the first Earthrise,” he said in a 1997 Nasa oral history interview. “(T)hat certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing. 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.”

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.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state said in a statement that local authorities received a report around noon on Friday that “an older model plane was flying from north to south then went into the water and sunk.”

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2024

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