William Anders

William Anders Official NASA Portrait

On this date in 1933, astronaut William Anders was born in Hong Kong. Anders became one of the first three people to travel to the moon when he served as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 with Frank Borman and James Lovell in 1968. They were the first persons to leave Earth's orbit and see all of Earth from space.

One of Anders' roles during the flight was to take photos on Dec. 24 of the back of the moon, something no person had ever seen before. The most famous picture he took (with a Hasselblad camera and a 250-mm lens) — of Earth rising behind the moon — became known as "Earthrise" and was made into a 6-cent U.S. postage stamp bearing the words, unfortunately, "In the beginning God ..." Anders, who was raised Catholic, reconsidered his religious beliefs of a god creating humans in his own image when he saw how insignificant Earth is from space.

He became an astronaut for NASA in 1964 after earning his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955. (His father was a naval officer aboard the USS Panay in a famous incident with Japan in 1937.) After graduation he chose to be commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He earned his master's in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1962 and completed the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program in 1979.

Anders worked for the federal government for 26 years, which included time spent as executive secretary for the National Aeronautics and Space Council. He then became a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and later worked as the general manager of GE's Aircraft Equipment Division. Anders also served as American ambassador to Norway and CEO of General Dynamics Corp.

Anders, who retired as a major general, married Valerie Hoard in 1955 and they have six children. His charity, the Anders Foundation, founded the Heritage Flight Museum in 1996 in Burlington, Wash.

“It really undercut my religious beliefs. The idea that things rotate around the pope and up there is a big supercomputer wondering whether Billy was a good boy yesterday? It doesn’t make any sense. I became a big buddy of Richard Dawkins.”

—Anders, "Earthrise: how the iconic image changed the world," The Guardian (Dec. 24, 2018)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; official NASA portrait

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