b. 2024/06/07 – Maj. Gen. William A. Anders

Astronaut William A. Anders holding a model of the Gemini spacecraft docked with its Agena target vehicle in NASA’s official portrait of him, 11 September, 1964. (NASA Photo S64-31555).

Bill Anders’ Apollo 8 was “The Mission” for many of us in NASA. We had signed up to help America land on the Moon in the midst of the Cold War. Apollo 8, however, not only was unexpected but was planned, prepared for, and flown in a short four months between August and December of 1968. The mission was conceived by Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager George Low as a means to maintain flight momentum in the face of a six-month delay in the readiness of the Lunar Module for Earth-orbit flight test; an unresolved issue with the Saturn V rocket; and information that the Soviets might try a lunar orbit mission before the end of the year.

The Apollo 8 prime crew, (left-to-right) Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, with their Saturn V Apollo Moonship leaving the Vehicle Assembly Building on its way to Launch Pad 39A, 9 October, 1968. (NASA photo S68-49397).

After discussing crew assignment for Apollo 8 with “C Mission” (Apollo 9) Commander Jim McDivitt, who was immersed in training for the first Earth-orbit flight of a lunar module, our boss, Deke Slayton, decided Frank Borman’s crew, including Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders, would fly Apollo 8. Frank’s crew originally was scheduled to follow McDivitt in a second flight test of the Lunar Module. Anders’ assignment to Borman’s crew was a last minute event, replacing Mike Collins due to a temporary medical issue.

Immediately upon the decision to fly Apollo 8 into lunar orbit, Commander Frank Borman needed help coordinating the mission’s lunar orbit flight planning with Bill Tindall’s Fight Operations Planning (FOP) group. Tindall and his FOP were the legendary clearing-house for all Apollo launch, flight and operations planning. Jim Lovell then wanted help developing procedures for lunar landmark tracking from orbit that he would test on the mission as a critical navigational component of landing safely on future missions.

Bill Anders would be responsible for scientific photography and geological observations of the lunar surface, in addition to monitoring and managing the environmental control, power, and propulsion systems, based on displays and controls on his right side of the Command Module instrument panel. As much as the time demands of spacecraft training and flight simulations would allow, Bill spent time every day becoming familiar with available images and ideas related to lunar features he would view beneath Apollo 8’s orbit.

Upon their assignment to Apollo 8, Borman’s crew quickly moved to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for training, as the simulators there were the first to be updated as new information became available. Each day at KSC, Bill and I would meet for an hour or so to go over existing Lunar Orbiter Program photographs of the Sun-illuminated portions of the Moon over which Apollo 8 would pass during its 10 orbits (about 20 hours). After strength and endurance workouts in the Crew Quarters’ gym, we met to discuss and revise a lunar observation and geological checklist he invented. This checklist would be a precursor to the “cuff checklists,” later used by Moon walkers.

The Apollo 8 mission was targeted to pass over the first possible far-eastern Apollo landing site, a reasonably smooth mare surface near the lunar equator. As targeting would also include a low sun-angle for better feature definition, surface illumination west of that site would only increase about 12 degrees. While he was in orbit, therefore, Bill only would see features at and 12 degrees west of this one potential landing site, and he mostly would be observing and photographing illuminated areas on the Moon’s far-side. Humans had only seen what he would see in limited resolution images taken by Lunar Orbiter. This combination of orbital mechanics and planning set the stage for Bill’s remarkable photograph of the Earth rising above the lunar horizon.

The iconic photo taken by Bill Anders from lunar orbit on its 3rd rising, relative to the spacecraft motion, during the mission on 24 December 1968. It is a view that all subsequent returning astronauts witnessed. (NASA Photo AS8-14-2383).

Over dinners at their home while we were both working in Washington DC, I came to know his wonderful family, Valerie and the six kids, Alan, Glen, Gayle, Gregory, Eric and Diana. Bill then was serving as Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). After an incident at a nuclear power plant, we unsuccessfully tried to persuade the NRC and the industry to standardize nuclear plant designs, controls and operations, conceptually based on Apollo’s Mission Control.

Astronaut William A. Anders (middle) on a rocky ledge during a geological field training trip in 1967 to the Dragon Canyon area of North Iceland with Icelandic geologist Sigurður Þórarinsson (left) and Dr. Ted Foss (right), then Chief of Geology and Geochemistry Branch, Lunar and Earth Sciences Division, Manned Spacecraft Center. (NASA Photo S67-37676).

Few persons, if any; can match the life and career of Bill Anders; United States Naval Academy graduate; engineer; fighter pilot; Apollo 8 astronaut; Executive Secretary for Space Council; United States Ambassador to Norway; Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Chairman, CEO and F-16 test pilot for General Dynamics Corp.; founder with Valerie, of the Heritage Flight Museum; and philanthropist. Bill certainly never lost his dedication to flight and continued his interest in geology, even joining, much to my delight, the Geological Society of America.

Apollo 8 Astronauts boarding the van for their ride to the Saturn V on Launch Pad 39A. Commander Frank Borman is entering the van. Command Pilot Jim Lovell is near the door and Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders follows close behind. (NASA photo 68-H-1334).

The Saturn V rocket with Apollo 8 on Pad 39A prior to launch on its historic flight to the Moon on December 21, 1968. (NASA Photo S69-15528).

The Apollo 8 crew addressing the crew of the U.S.S. Yorktown after their return on December 27, 1968. (Left-to-Right): Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell. (NASA Photo 68-HC-883).

As a friend and colleague, Bill Anders will be missed. As a man of deep values and service, Bill Anders will live on as an example to future generations of explorers and dedicated Americans.

Copyright © 2024 by Harrison H. Schmitt