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William Anders, who flew in the first manned orbit of the Moon, dies at the age of 90

William Anders, who flew in the first manned orbit of the Moon, dies at the age of 90

Major William Anders, who flew the first manned space mission to orbit the Moon, Apollo 8's “Genesis Flight,” on Christmas Eve 1968, and took the “Earthrise” color photo credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement, died Friday. When a small plane he was piloting alone dived into the waters near Rush Harbor, Washington state, northwest of Seattle. He was 90 years old.

His son Greg confirmed his death.

Major Anders, along with Colonel Frank Borman, both Air Forces, and Captain James A. Lovell Jr., a Marine, was part of the first group of astronauts to leave the confines of Earth's orbit. During their mission, they took photographs and motion pictures of the lunar surface in preparation for Apollo 11, when men first stepped onto the moon's surface and were the first astronauts to be sent aloft by a giant Saturn V rocket.

Beyond those monumental milestones, their mission was seen as a brief revival of the spirits of an America stunned by rising casualties in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and vociferous anti-war protests. Racial unrest.

On Christmas Eve, during their ten orbits around the moon, the three astronauts, whose movements were broadcast on television to millions around the world, took pictures of the Earth as it rose above the lunar horizon, appearing like blue marble amid the blackness of the sky. But only Major Anders, who oversaw the spacecraft's electronic and communications systems, shot color film.

His image shook the world. This slogan, known as “Earthrise,” was reproduced on a 1969 postage stamp bearing the phrase “In the Beginning God…” It was the inspiration for the first Earth Day in 1970, and appeared on the cover of Life magazine’s 2003 book “100 Pictures That Changed the world.” Just moments before Major Anders began to fly away, the astronauts could be heard, as captured by the camera lens Registered on boardExpressing their astonishment at what they saw:

Anders: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there. Here comes the Earth. Wow, this is beautiful.

Bormann: [chuckle] Hey, don't take this, it's not scheduled.

Anders: [laughter] “Do you have color film, Jim? Give me that roll of color real quick, will you…

Lovell: “Man, this is great.”

Decades later, in a 2015 interview with Forbes magazine“The view speaks to the beauty and fragility of the Earth,” Major Anders said of Earthrise. “It helped launch the environmental movement.”

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But he said he was surprised by how faded the public's memory of the characters behind that photo was. “It is strange to me that the press and people on Earth have kind of forgotten about our historic journey, and what symbolizes the journey now is the image of ‘Earthrise,’” he said. “Here we are on the moon to discover Earth.”

At the conclusion of their Christmas Eve television broadcast, the Apollo 8 astronauts read from the first passage in the Book of Genesis.

Major Anders was the first reader: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was formless and empty. And darkness was on the face of the deep.”

William Allison Anders was born on 17 October 1933 in Hong Kong, where he lived with his mother, Muriel Adams Anders, while his father, Lieutenant Arthur Anders, a career naval man, worked as an officer on a gunboat. Panai on patrol along the Yangtze River in China.

After a stint in Annapolis, Maryland, the family returned to China, where his father was appointed aboard the ship Panai, once again, as executive officer, or second-in-command. But after the Japanese attack on Beijing in July 1937, which led to the start of the Sino-Japanese War, Bill and his mother fled to the Philippines.

In December, while the Panay was evacuating Americans from China, Japanese aircraft strafed and bombed the boat.

Her captain was seriously wounded, however Lieutenant Anders, who was also wounded, took command and ordered the boat's gunners to fire on the Japanese planes. He also supervised the evacuation of the boat before it sank, and was awarded the Navy Cross, the service's highest award for bravery after the Medal of Honor.

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This incident, which became known as the Panay Incident, exacerbated tensions between the United States and Japan, which only four years later attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing America into World War II.

Bill Anders returned to the United States, enrolled at Grossmont High School in San Diego County, California, and became fascinated by tales of world-famous exploration. Following the same path as his father, he entered the Naval Academy and graduated in 1955, planning to become a pilot. He received a commission in the Air Force, which he considered more amenable than the Navy to making breakthroughs in aeronautical science.

He earned his pilot wings in 1956 and served as a fighter pilot with interceptor squadrons in California and Iceland tracking Soviet heavy bombers that were challenging the limits of American air defense. In 1962, he earned a master's degree in nuclear engineering from the US Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. A year later, he joined NASA's third class of astronauts, despite his lack of experience as a test pilot, a traditional path to flying at the agency.

While at NASA, Major Anders became a specialist in space radiation, the effects of which were considered a potential danger to future astronauts. He also trained on a module that could be used to transport astronauts from an orbiting capsule to the lunar surface, a future lunar lander.

Apollo 8 was designed to orbit Earth using the module that Major Anders would test. But its development was delayed, so the mission was reprogrammed to lunar orbit, without the module, a premature and risky attempt to beat the Russians to lunar orbit. The mission achieved great success, and its pioneers were welcomed in the marches held in New York, Chicago, and Washington, and they appeared before a joint session of Congress.

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In 1969, Major Anders retired from NASA and the Air Force, after accepting the position of Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, a presidential advisory unit.

He later became a member of the Atomic Energy Commission, the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and ambassador to Norway. After leaving government service, he held executive positions at General Electric and Textron and was president and CEO of General Dynamics, a major defense contractor.

He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1988 with the rank of Major General.

He is survived by his wife, Valerie (Howard) Anders; his sons Alan, Glenn, Greg and Eric; and his daughters, Gayle and Diana.

Major Anders lived in Washington State, where he and his wife lived Founded the Aviation Museum in 1996.

Although 12 Americans would walk on the moon, Mr. Anders was not among them, and Apollo 8 was his only spaceflight. But he never seemed bothered by this. From his vantage point in orbit, the moon's terrain seemed uninspiring in contrast to the beauty of the house he depicted in Earthrise.

“I use the unpoetic description ‘dirty beach,’” he said of the dangerous lunar surface, adding: “You can imagine how poets give me hell.”

Orlando Mayorquin Contribute to reporting and Susan C. Beachy Contributed to research.