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‘Earthrise’ Astronaut William Anders Dies in Plane Crash

One of the first three people to orbit the moon, retired astronaut William Anders took the famous “Earthrise” shot during NASA’s Apollo 8 mission. According to local media, he passed away on Friday when the small plane he was flying crashed in Washington state.

According to The Seattle Times, which quoted Anders’ son Greg, 90, Anders was the only person on board when the plane crashed off the shore of Jones Island, which is a part of the San Juan Islands archipelago between Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

KCPQ-TV, a Fox affiliate in Tacoma, said that Anders, a San Juan County resident, was operating a vintage Air Force single-engine T-34 Mentor that he owned.

Video footage showed on KCPQ showed a plane plunging from the skies in a steep dive before slamming into the water just offshore.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for confirmation of the crash.

A US Naval Academy graduate and Air Force pilot, Anders joined NASA in 1963 as a member of the third group of astronauts. He did not go into space until Dec. 21, 1968, when Apollo 8 lifted off on the first crewed mission to leave Earth orbit and travel 240,000 miles (386,000 km) to the moon.

Anders was the “rookie” on the crew, alongside Frank Borman, the mission commander, and James Lovell, who had flown with Borman on Gemini 7 in 1965 and later commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13.

Apollo 8, originally scheduled for 1969, was pushed forward because of concerns the Russians were accelerating their own plans for a trip around the moon by the end of 1968. That gave the crew only several months to train for the historic but highly risky mission.

During the flight, Anders captured what became one of history’s most iconic photographs, an image of Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

He also played a key role in another indelible episode from that Christmas Eve mission – leading off as the crew read from the Book of Genesis while Apollo 8 transmitted images of the lunar surface to Earth.

The three astronauts were greeted as national heroes when they splashed down three days later in the Pacific Ocean and were feted as Time magazine’s “Men of the Year.”

Their mission paved the way to the first moon landing by Apollo 11 seven months later, assuring U.S. victory in the Cold War “space race” with the Soviets. But it was also hailed for lifting national spirits at the end of one of America’s most traumatic years, in which Americans were shaken by the war in Vietnam, and riots and assassinations at home.

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