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Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders dies in plane crash at 90

J.B. Spector/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, who took the iconic “Earthrise” photograph while in lunar orbit that showed the moon’s surface and Earth, has died, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Friday. He was 90.

Anders was piloting a Beechcraft plane that plummeted into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state on Friday morning, authorities said. He was the only person onboard the aircraft and his body has since been recovered, the Coast Guard said.

Anders’ famous “Earthrise” photo was taken on Christmas Eve in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission.

“Bill Anders offered to humanity among the deepest of gifts an astronaut can give. He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves. He embodied the lessons and the purpose of exploration. We will miss him,” Nelson said in a statement.

The Apollo 8 crew was composed of Commander Frank Borman, Lunar Module Pilot Anders and Command Module Pilot James Lovell. The three served as the crew for the first manned Apollo mission launched aboard the Saturn V and the crewmembers became the first humans to enter lunar orbit and witness the far side of the moon.

Anders graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1955. He went on to receive a commission in the U.S. Air Force and obtain a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1962.

In late 1963, Anders “was among just 14 men chosen by NASA from a pool of thousands of applicants” for the Astronaut Corps, according to the Heritage Flight Museum.

Anders founded the Heritage Flight Museum in 1996 with his wife, Valerie Anders, in Bellingham, Washington.

President Richard Nixon appointed Anders to become executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council in 1969.

Apollo 8 was Anders’ only space flight.

Nelson added in a statement Saturday, “The voyage Bill took in 1968 was only one of the many remarkable chapters in Bill’s life and service to humanity. In his 26 years of service to our country, Bill was many things – U.S. Air Force officer, astronaut, engineer, ambassador, advisor, and much more.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating Friday’s crash.

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