Anders, William Alison
AstronautEnshrined 2004 1933-Present
Bill Anders’ earliest memories involve adventure. It would prove to be a recurring theme in his life, one that would define his greatest achievements. Indeed, Anders would participate in the ultimate adventure, becoming one of the first three human beings to see the far side of the moon. As Lunar Module pilot aboard Apollo 8, Bill drew inspiration as he and his crewmates watched their home planet rise above the stark surface of the moon.
Born in Hong Kong in 1933, Bill is the son of Muriel and Arthur “Tex” Anders. Tex was a Navy lieutenant aboard the USS Panay, an American gunboat patrolling China’s Yangtze River. During the 1937 Japanese attack on Nanking, Muriel and four-year-old Bill had to flee the country. When the Japanese attacked the Panay and its captain sustained serious injuries, Tex, though wounded himself, took command of the ship ordering “Open fire!” The elder Anders’ bravery earned him the Navy Cross.
With such a role model, Bill Anders grew into a passionate patriot, determined to serve his country and make a difference. Just how he would accomplish these goals remained a question. He entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1951, but found himself pondering the pursuit of “something more,” though he had yet to define what that might be. One piece of the puzzle fell into place when Bill met Valerie Hoard in 1952. Their attraction was immediate, and Bill realized that he had found the woman who would share his life. The next step was deciding how and where they would live that life.
Bill had begun to look beyond a career on the ocean and into the blue sky above it. When a young general visited Annapolis and spoke of better advancement opportunities in the Air Force, young Anders took those words to heart. Upon his 1955 graduation, Bill was commissioned into the Air Force. His first assignment was as a fighter pilot in all-weather interceptor squadrons of the Air Defense Command, where he took part in early intercepts of the Soviet bombers that were testing America’s air defense capabilities.
Bill’s dedication to duty was unwavering, as Valerie learned in 1957 when she was pregnant with their first child. Stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base near San Francisco, Bill was practicing intercepts when the controller directed him home, informing him his wife had just given birth to a son. Glancing at his fuel gauge Bill Anders radioed back, “They can wait. I still have half a load of fuel.” He completed his mission before landing to visit Valerie and the baby. Fortunately, neither mother nor son seemed to hold a grudge.
Throughout his career, Bill has nurtured and refined his commitment to excellence. After earning a master’s degree with honors in nuclear engineering, he took over technical management of radiation shielding and space nuclear power projects at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory.
Aware that there was more to life than his career, Bill wrote home to Valerie from overseas that he wanted them to develop a plan for their future: “We must define our purpose before we’re sidelined by things that give only a false and temporary sense of happiness and success.” His fear, he admitted, was looking back at their lives together one day saying, “It was a good life, but with more thought, it could have been better.” Confident, he wrote, “I’m sure that the answer to full and happy lives lies not in high position, lots of money, or flying rockets to the moon.”
Our country, already deeply embroiled in the Cold War, had been shocked and embarrassed when the Soviets launched the first satellite, Sputnik, and orbited the first human, Yuri Gagarin. Rising to the challenge, the U.S. government announced the Apollo program, and President Kennedy’s goal of a lunar landing “…in this decade.” Then, in 1963, Bill heard a radio announcement for NASA’s third class of astronauts. Realizing that he met all the qualifications, Anders applied, was accepted, and was on his way into space.
Astronaut Anders fell to his work with characteristic dedication and focus, working late in the simulators and returning home to his family on weekends. He underwent NASA’s traditional survival training, learning to catch and eat iguanas. He did the lecture circuit, spreading the word about America’s space exploration. Known as capable and reliable, Bill’s hard work paid off: he was Capcom for Gemini 8, back-up for Gemini 11, and checked out in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, before receiving an assignment to Apollo 8.
Although his official title was Lunar Module Pilot, at the last minute there was no lunar module to pilot. NASA shuffled the missions in order to beat a potential Soviet moon launch, so Apollo 8 moved to the front burner before its component parts were fully assembled. The goal was ambitious at best, foolhardy at worst. Many at NASA calculated that the crew had a 50-50 chance of completing their mission. Bill, always the engineer, estimated the odds even less favorably. Feeling that they had a one-third chance of successfully completing the mission, a one-third chance of coming home alive but having to abort the flight, and a one-third chance of not making it back at all, Anders elected to go.
If Anders worried about those odds, he didn’t reveal his feelings in his work. He energetically trained with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell in preparing for a mission that would prove a seminal moment in American exploration. After the first launch on the giant Saturn V rocket, the command and service modules carried them, the first people ever to leave the Earth and go to the moon, orbiting 10 times just 60 miles above the lunar surface. Apollo 8’s December 1968 flight was a rare bright spot in a tumultuous year of riots, campus violence, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the continued escalation of death and destruction in the Vietnam War.
On Christmas Eve, 240,000 miles from home, orbiting the moon at 5,000 m.p.h., Anders, Lovell, and Borman captivated the attention of those on Earth when, in a live telecast watched by a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions, they read from the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis.
Apollo 8 gave America a much-needed morale boost, and a significant portion of that new infusion of optimism sprung from Bill Anders’s deviation from the flight plan when he shot an un-programmed picture later hailed as one of the most influential images of the 20th Century.
Rushing to meet the demands of a crowded lunar photographic schedule, the crew looked up to see the blue orb of Earth rising above the stark and colorless lunar horizon, likening the planet to a fragile Christmas ornament, floating in the black voice of space. If ever there was an argument for human versus robotic exploration, Bill Anders made it as he shifted gears from astronaut-engineer to citizen of planet earth pointing his camera to capture the view popularly known as “Earthrise.”
Returning to Earth, Bill’s adventures were far from over. He was named backup Command Module pilot for Apollo 11 and the President later appointed him to serve as Executive Secretary of the Aeronautics and Space Council, where he worked tirelessly to increase national support for aeronautics research and development. He was appointed to the Atomic Energy Commission, named the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and then later served as U.S. Ambassador to Norway.
Following successful senior management positions at General Electric and Textron, he took the reins of the General Dynamics Corporation, where, as Chairman and CEO, he led the company’s dramatic revival during the tumultuous end of the Cold War.
Anders retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1988 at the rank of major general. Throughout his career, he always remained on active flight status, maintaining his proficiency in both jets and helicopters. In fact, one of his conditions for taking the helm at General Dynamics was that he could appoint himself “assistant test pilot” for the F-16.
The recipient of numerous awards and flight records, Anders’ passion for flying has been a constant. In 1996 he established the Heritage Flight Museum which collects, restores and flies vintage warbirds. He has logged over 8,000 hours; has raced his P-51, Valhalla and his F8F Bearcat, Wampus Cat at the Reno Air Races; and flies them in various Air Force Heritage Flight and Navy Legacy Flight shows with modern military fighters.
For his role in helping lead the Apollo space program to success, for his commitment to preserving and flying yesterday’s warbirds, and ensuring the future of exploration beyond the wild blue, William Alison Anders is hereby enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.