William Anders, Apollo 8 Astronaut Who Captured Earthrise Photo, Killed in Plane Crash

A retired major general and former astronaut who took one of the most important photographs in modern history has died. William Anders, 90, was killed in a plane crash off the San Juan Islands in Washington state on Friday, according to multiple news outlets.

The former astronaut, who took the iconic Earthrise photo showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission, was piloting a small plane that plummeted into the waters off the San Juan Islands on Friday morning. He was the only person on board.

Anders, a retired Air Force major general, took the photograph of Earth from lunar orbit, showing the planet as a fragile, colored ornament against the moon's surface. He had snapped the photo after urgently switching from black-and-white to color film.

"Oh my God, look at that picture over there!" Anders said at the time. "There's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!"

Anders' death came nearly a year after the passing of his fellow Apollo 8 astronaut, James Lovell, who died in March 2022 at age 93. Lovell, a former Navy captain, flew combat missions in the South China Sea and the Himalayas during the Korean War.

NASA Administrator and former Sen. Bill Nelson wrote on Twitter that Anders "traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves."

Anders, along with Lovell and Frank Borman, were the crew of the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, which was the first human spaceflight to leave low-Earth orbit and travel to the moon and back. It was also NASA's boldest and perhaps most dangerous mission at the time and set the stage for the Apollo moon landing seven months later.

Anders, who served as a fighter pilot during World War II and the Korean War, retired from the Air Force in 1971 and went on to found the Heritage Flight Museum in Washington state in 1996. It is now based at a regional airport in Burlington, and features 15 aircraft, several antique military vehicles, a library, and many artifacts donated by veterans, according to the museum's website.

Anders' son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, confirmed the death to The Associated Press, telling the outlet that "the family is devastated" and "he was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly."

At the time of his death, Anders was the last surviving member of the Apollo 8 mission.

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