HK-born astronaut William Anders, known for iconic “Earthrise” photo, dies in plane crash at 90

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William Anders

9th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong-born retired US astronaut William Anders, renowned for his participation in the historic Apollo 8 mission, passed away at the age of 90 in a small plane crash in Washington state. Anders gained global recognition as one of the first three humans to orbit the moon, alongside capturing the iconic “Earthrise” photograph in 1968, which depicted Earth emerging over the lunar horizon. The tragic news of his demise was confirmed by the Heritage Flight Museum, an organisation he co-founded.

According to reports from The Seattle Times, Anders was piloting a vintage Air Force single-engine T-34 Mentor aircraft alone when the accident occurred off the coast of Jones Island, part of the San Juan Islands archipelago. The plane went down between Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Video footage captured the aircraft descending rapidly before crashing into the water near the shoreline.

Anders began his career as a US Naval Academy graduate and later served as an Air Force pilot before joining NASA in 1963 as part of the third group of astronauts. It was in December 1968 that he embarked on the momentous Apollo 8 mission, marking the first crewed endeavour to venture beyond Earth’s orbit and travel approximately 240,000 miles (386,000 km) to reach the moon.

During the Apollo 8 mission, Anders, alongside mission commander Frank Borman and James Lovell, circled the moon ten times without landing before safely returning to Earth. However, their journey was not without risks. The crew had limited time for training due to concerns that the Soviet Union was accelerating their own plans for a lunar trip. The success of their mission relied on the untested Saturn V rocket and the precise execution of entering and leaving lunar orbit.

On Christmas Eve, as Apollo 8 reached the moon, the crew transmitted the first-ever images of the lunar surface to a global audience exceeding one billion people. However, it was during one of these lunar orbits that Anders captured the awe-inspiring “Earthrise” photograph. The image showcased the Earth’s vibrant colours against the stark lunar landscape, leaving a lasting impression on humanity and playing a significant role in inspiring the environmental movement.