Astronaut who captured iconic ‘Earthrise’ image dies in plane crash

US

The astronaut who captured the famous first colour photo of the Earth from space has died in a plane crash in the US.

William Anders, 90, was the only person aboard the small aircraft he was piloting when it plummeted off the coast of Jones Island, near Washington state, on Friday.

His son, Greg Anders, confirmed the death, adding the family is “devastated”.

“He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly,” he added.

Mr Anders circled the moon with Apollo 8 in December 1968, in the first human spaceflight to leave Earth’s orbit.

During the flight, Mr Anders captured what became one of the most iconic photographs ever taken, an image of Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

He said in a 1997 NASA oral history interview he thought there was about a one in three chance the crew wouldn’t make it back and the same chance of success.

Christopher Columbus may have sailed with worse odds, he added.

William Anders pictured in 2004. Pic: AP
Image:
William Anders pictured in 2004. Pic: AP

But he said he felt there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons for going ahead with the mission.

“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 added.

“That certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing.

“To see this very delicate, colourful orb, which to me looked like a Christmas tree ornament coming up over this very stark, ugly lunar landscape really contrasted.”

That photo is credited with sparking the global environmental movement for showing how delicate and isolated Earth appeared from space.

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Their mission paved the way to the first moon landing by Apollo 11 seven months later, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.

It was also hailed for lifting national spirits at the end of one of the US’s most traumatic years, in which Americans were shaken by the war in Vietnam, and riots and assassinations at home.

Senator Mark Kelly, who is also a retired NASA astronaut, wrote on X: “Bill Anders forever changed our perspective of our planet and ourselves with his famous Earthrise photo on Apollo 8.

“He inspired me and generations of astronauts and explorers. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”

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