Human WorldSpace

Apollo 8 Earthrise photographer killed in plane crash

Earthrise: Blue and white Earth stands out against blackness over the gray lunar landscape as seen from orbit.
The iconic “Earthrise” image of Earth appearing over the moon’s horizon as captured by William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, taken during a live broadcast with NASA astronauts from the lunar orbit on December 24, 1968. From any one spot on the moon’s near side, Earth doesn’t rise or set, but simply hangs in one spot in the lunar sky. The astronauts saw an Earthrise because they were moving in a spacecraft above the moon’s surface. Image via NASA.

Earthrise photo changed human perspective

On Christmas Eve in 1968, William Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft, turned his camera toward Earth and captured a photo that’s now legendary. It was a photo that showed humans a new perspective, with the moon in the foreground and Earth floating in distant space. Anders was killed on Friday, June 7, 2024, when the plane he was piloting alone crashed. AP reported that the plane:

… plummeted into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He was 90. His son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. ‘The family is devastated,’ he said. ‘He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.’

Anders will not be forgotten because his photo of “Earthrise” helped people realize how small and fragile our planet appears, from a space-based perspective. The photo helped spur the environmental movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which has continued to today.

AP reported that NASA Administrator and former Sen. Bill Nelson said on X:

Anders traveled to the threshold of the moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves.

Earthrise video shows what the astronauts saw

NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio released the video below on the 45th anniversary of the photo now known as “Earthrise.” The position of Apollo 8 and what the astronauts saw through the windows of the spacecraft are recreated and matched with audio from the flight.

You can hear the voices of the Apollo 8 astronauts: Commander Frank Borman and crew members William A. Anders and James A. Lovell. On the astronauts’ fourth orbit of the moon, Borman performed a roll maneuver of their craft, which put them in position to catch the Earth ascending over the lunar horizon. The video relays the exciting moments as they are surprised with the view for the first time and grapple to get color film to capture the momentous photograph, while joking that the image was not part of their schedule.

An iconic moment in history

Dan Rather described the iconic image in his book, What Unites Us. He explains how it captures the peaceful Earth in the darkness of space and what was really happening on the planet at that moment of history:

This image, so peaceful and yet so breathtaking, was taken at the end of a turbulent year. It was Christmas Eve 1968, but from up there you would never know that a hot war was raging in Vietnam or that a Cold War was dividing Europe. You wouldn’t know of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Bobby Kennedy. From that distance, people are invisible, and so are cities, countries, and national boundaries. All that separates us ethnically, culturally, politically, and spiritually is absent from the image. What we see is one fragile planet making its way across the vastness of space.

With the click of a shutter, our spaceship Earth and everyone aboard was captured by the first humans to venture beyond the bounds of Earth’s gravity and give us a better picture of our home.

Here’s Apollo 8 entering our atmosphere on December 27, 1968.

And 55 years later another iconic sight

Sunlit front end of space capsule labeled NASA, with tiny Earth and moon in distance.
On November 28, 2022, the uncrewed Orion spacecraft reached its maximum distance – 268,563 miles (432,210 km) – from the Earth and moon. At that point, Orion had traveled farther than any other spacecraft built for humans, and farther than any Apollo mission some 50 years ago. See the moon and Earth in the upper right? Image via NASA.

Bottom line: captured the iconic “Earthrise” photo on Christmas Eve, 1968. Anders was killed Friday, when the plane he was piloting alone crashed.

Click here to read more details about the NASA visualization.

June 8, 2024
Human World

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Deborah Byrd

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