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Astronaut who took famous 'Earth rise' photo dies aged 90 in small plane crash

William Anders was piloting the plane when it crashed off the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

FORMER ASTRONAUT WILLIAM Anders has died, aged 90, after the plane he was piloting crashed into water off the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

Retired Major General Anders took what became the famous Earthrise picture showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space while on board Apollo 8 in 1968.

Confirming the news, his son, retired Air Force Lieutanant Colonel Greg Anders said:

“The family is devastated. He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

The photograph, the first colour image of Earth from space, is credited with changing how humans viewed the planet and sparking the global environmental movement for showing how delicate and isolated Earth appeared from space.

Anders said the photo was his most significant contribution to the space programme, given the ecological philosophical impact it had, along with making sure the Apollo 8 command module and service module worked.

He took the photo during the crew’s fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching from black-and-white to colour film.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” he said.

“There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

He said in an 1997 NASA oral history interview that he did not think the Apollo 8 mission was risk-free but there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons for going ahead.

official-portrait-of-astronaut-william-anders-william-anders An official portrait of William Anders taken during the Apollo missions. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He estimated there was about one in three chance that the crew would not make it back and the same chance the mission would be a success and the same chance that the mission would not start to begin with.

“We’d been going backwards and upside down, didn’t really see the Earth or the Sun, and when we rolled around and came around and saw the first Earthrise,” he said.

“That certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing. To see this very delicate, colourful orb which to me looked like a Christmas tree ornament coming up over this very stark, ugly lunar landscape really contrasted.”

The Apollo 8 mission in December 1968 was the first human spaceflight to leave low-Earth orbit and travel to the moon and back.

It was NASA’s boldest and perhaps most dangerous voyage yet and one that set the stage for the Apollo moon landing seven months later.

Only the pilot was on board Anders’ Beech A45 airplane, according to the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).

The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the crash, which crashed and sank near the north end of Jones Island. Greg Anders confirmed his father’s body was recovered yesterday afternoon.

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