William Anders, Apollo 8 Mission Astronaut, Dies in Small Plane Crash

News & Politics

Former NASA astronaut, William Anders, one of the surviving crewmembers of the 1968 Apollo 8 mission, was killed on June 7, after his small plane crashed into Puget Sound, near Orcas Island in Washington State.

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The 90-year-old retired astronaut and former US Navy and Air Force pilot died after he crashed nto the waters off Orcas Island at 11:45 AM, officials with the United States Coast Guard told the Associated Press.

A video posted on the Daily Mail website, shows Anders’ plane attempting to pull out of a dive, before splashing into the water and exploding.

Station Bellingham, Air Station Port Angeles, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene of the crash in a search and rescue effort. 

The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA said they are now investigating the crash. 

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office told reporters that Anders was flying his vintage Air Force Beech T-34A Mentor from north to south when it hit the water and sank.

The late Astronaut was a resident of San Juan County, Washington.

His son Greg Anders, confirmed his death in an announcement, saying: “The family is devastated. He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

Apollo 8 made headlines 56 years ago on Christmas Eve 1968, when the mission’s three astronauts, including Anders, James Lovell, and Frank Boorman, read from the Book of Genesis during a live telecast, as their capsule orbited the surface of the moon.

Boorman died last November at the age of 95.

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As the first men to orbit the moon, Anders and his fellow astronauts were part of the mission that prepared the way for the Apollo 11 moon landing seven months later in July 1969.

The mission was rushed and planned in four months to beat the Soviets in a manned flight around the lunar surface. 

The brand new Saturn V rocket had yet to deliver a manned space flight out of the Earth’s orbit before the unprecedented Apollo 8 mission, one of the most challenging in NASA’s history.

It was also the first time that men had set their eyes on the far side of the moon and seen our planet as a small glowing ornament surrounded by the darkness of space, hundreds of thousands of miles away,

The now famous “Earthrise” photo, which showed Earth from the Moon, was taken by Anders while in lunar orbit on December 24, according to NASA. 

On Christmas Eve 1968, the Apollo 8 crew took turns reading the first several verses from Genesis, with Anders reading, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

On their last night in lunar orbit, the astronauts wished viewers on television, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.” 

The Apollo 8 team successfully returned to Earth on December 27 after six days in space, with the astronauts going on parade in New York, Chicago, and Washington and appearing before a joint session of Congress.

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Time magazine named the three astronauts of Apollo 8 as the ‘Men of the Year.’

Borman and Anders never flew in space again and Lovell was destined to fly on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Anders retired from NASA in 1969, after accepting a position as executive secretary of the White House’s National Aeronautics and Space Council.

He became later a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Ambassador to Norway. 

Anders later held top executive positions at General Electric, Textron, and General Dynamics.

The former astronaut finally retired with the rank of major general from the Air Force Reserves in 1988.

A crater on the Moon called “The Anders Crater” was also named in his honor, according to the Anders Foundation website. 

He is survived by his wife, Valerie, his sons Alan, Glen, Greg, and Eric and his daughters, Gayle and Diana.

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