William Anders: The astronaut who captured the famous 'Earthrise' photo

Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot William Anders is helped from the bobbing Apollo 8 spacecraft during the early morning hours 27 December 1968. The Apollo 8 crew waited for more than an hour after landing about 1000 miles South Southwest of Hawai until th

Retired astronaut William Anders, who tragically passed away in a plane crash on Friday afternoon, captured one of the most famous images ever recorded in space: the iconic "Earthrise" photo during the Apollo 8 mission. 

This image, which shows Earth rising above the lunar horizon, has become one of the most famous photographs in history and a symbol of the environmental movement.

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On December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission, Anders and his fellow astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell orbited the moon. Anders noticed Earth emerging over the horizon as they circled the lunar surface. He quickly grabbed his camera and snapped the photograph that would come to be known as "Earthrise." This image provided a new perspective on our planet, highlighting its beauty and fragility.

Early life of William Anders

Born on Oct. 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, William Anders grew up in San Diego. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1955 with a bachelor of science degree in nuclear engineering and earned a master of science degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1962. Anders completed the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program in 1979.

Recruited by NASA

In 1964, NASA selected Anders as an astronaut. He took on responsibilities for dosimetry, radiation effects, and environmental control. He served as a backup pilot for the Gemini XI and Apollo 11 flights and was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8.

The Apollo 8 mission

During the Apollo 8 mission, the command module orbited the moon, sending back images of the lunar surface and Earth. The astronauts read from the Book of Genesis, ending with a message of peace for everyone "on the good Earth." However, the "Earthrise" photo, taken by Anders, remains the most enduring legacy of the mission.


The "Earthrise" photo, taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968, shows Earth rising above the lunar horizon. (NASA)

William Anders' later years

After retiring from the Air Force Reserves in 1988, Anders became the chairperson and CEO of General Dynamics Corporation in 1991. He retired two years later but remained chairperson until 1994.

Anders and his wife Valerie moved to Orcas Island in 1993, where they established the Anders Foundation to support educational and environmental causes. They also founded the Heritage Flight Museum in 1996, which has grown steadily and is now located at Skagit Regional Airport in Burlington.