Remembering William A. Anders

June 20, 2024, 7:01AMNuclear News

William A. Anders

William A. Anders, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former member of the American Nuclear Society, died on June 7 at 90 years of age.

In a June 18 statement, the NRC offered condolences on his passing.

“Chairman Anders had an illustrious career far beyond taking one of the most widely seen photos from space,” said NRC chair Christopher Hanson. “He was the only person to serve as commissioner on both the Atomic Energy Commission and NRC, and he served as the new agency’s first chairman, providing institutional continuity while unambiguously committing the agency to serve as an unbiased, independent, and open regulator. We are saddened by his death and extend our condolences to his family.”

History: Anders was appointed by President Gerald Ford and became NRC chair on January 19, 1975. He served on the commission until April 20, 1976. Previously, Anders had served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force before joining NASA as an astronaut, where he worked as a specialist in space radiation. He assumed engineering responsibilities in conjunction with the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft projects and served as a backup crew member for the Gemini 11 and Apollo 11 space missions.

Anders’s official NASA portrait in 1964. (Photo: NASA)

Anders was tapped as a crew member for the Apollo 8 mission, which, in December 1968, became the first crewed mission to orbit the moon. During Apollo 8, Anders achieved international fame when he took the photograph “Earthrise,” the first color photo of the Earth as seen from the moon. According to the NRC, “Earthrise” is credited with helping inspire the modern environmental movement and was named one of the top photographs of the 20th century by Life Magazine.

Anders went on to serve as executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council and then as commissioner of the AEC. He also served as a U.S. ambassador to Norway and later in top positions at General Electric Corporation and General Dynamics. He continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force reserves, from which he retired as a major general.

Honors: Throughout this life, Anders received numerous awards, including the NRC Distinguished Service Award, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Air Force Distinguished Service and Commendation Medals, and the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for Exploration. He is a member of the International Space Hall of Fame, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Earthrise, the iconic photo taken by Anders during the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968. The Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon 10 times before returning to Earth. (Photo: NASA)

In print: Nuclear News featured Anders in the April 2024 issue on Space: Powering the Final Frontier.

Bill Anders: Our man in space

The February 1969 issue of Nuclear News celebrated NASA astronaut Bill Anders as a “Nuclear Newsmaker” and “our man in space.” Anders, described in the article as “moon orbiter, nuclear engineer, and ANS member,” was aboard the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968—the first human-crewed mission to orbit the moon—along with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell.

NN managing editor Chris FitzGerald interviewed Anders once he returned to Earth and reported that as “a true ‘nuclear’ man, he remarked, only half in jest, upon his return from the moon that his only regret concerning the trip was that they didn’t get there with a NERVA engine.”

Anders joined ANS as a graduate student and served as president of the Air Force Institute of Technology student section before he graduated in 1962. He then went to work on space radiation shielding and effects for the air force, remaining active in ANS after he was accepted for astronaut training in 1963.

Having earlier logged about 3,000 hours of flying time, Anders was trained as a lunar module pilot. While he never landed on the moon, he did land the honor of serving as the first chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1975 to 1976, following a stint on the Atomic Energy Commission from 1973 to 1975

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