William Anders was born October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong. His father was a Navy lieutenant aboard the USS Panay, an American gunboat on duty in China’s Yangtze River. During the 1937 Japanese attack on Nanking, Anders and his mother had to flee China. The same year, the Japanese attacked and sank the Panay; during the battle, Anders’ father earned the Navy Cross for bravery. William received a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955. He was then commissioned in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a fighter pilot in all-weather interception squadrons of the Air Defense Command. He received a Master of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1962 and was assigned responsibility for technical management of nuclear power reactor shielding and radiation-effects programs at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory.
William Anders was selected as an astronaut in October 1963. After more than five years of training, he was named the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 8 mission. Frank Borman II was Mission Commander and James A. Lovell, Jr. the Command Module pilot. The mammoth Saturn V rocket with the Apollo 8 spacecraft on top was launched on December 21, 1968, from Kennedy Space Center. The five first-stage engines produced a combined thrust of 7,500,000 pounds at liftoff in the first manned launch of the Saturn V.
The Apollo 8 spacecraft left Earth orbit and journeyed 230,000 miles out into space to the Moon, an odyssey without precedent in man’s history. On reaching the vicinity of the Moon, the crew used its gravity to bring their spacecraft into a 60-mile high lunar orbit, circling the Moon ten times.
The Apollo’s service propulsion system was then fired to boost the spacecraft out of lunar orbit and into the narrow return corridor to Earth. The spacecraft reached 24,200 miles per hour during its return voyage, establishing a speed record for a manned craft at the time. Apollo 8 landed safely in the Pacific Ocean 147 hours after liftoff.
Prior to re-entry, the service module was cast off and the Apollo capsule was turned blunt end forward to position the heat shield where it could cope with the temperatures of 5,000° F high-speed passage through the atmosphere generates. The drogue chutes deployed at 34,000 feet to begin the final deceleration phase and were followed by the deployment of the three main chutes at 10,000 feet. When Apollo 8 hit the Ocean, it had slowed to a rate of only seventeen miles per hour.
From June 1969 to 1973 William Anders served as Executive Secretary for the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which was responsible to the President, Vice President and Cabinet-level members of the Council for developing policy options concerning research, development, operations, and planning of aeronautical and space systems.
On August 6, 1973, Anders was appointed to the five-member Atomic Energy Commission where he was lead commissioner for all nuclear and non-nuclear power R&D. He was also named as U. S. Chairman of the joint US/USSR technology exchange program for nuclear fission and fusion power. On January 19, 1975, William Anders was named the first Chairman of the newly established Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). At the completion of his term as NRC Chairman, Anders was appointed United States Ambassador to Norway and held that position until 1977.
William Anders left the civil service after 26 years of service and joined the General Electric Company (GE) in September 1977 as Vice President and General Manager of the Nuclear Products Division in San Jose, California. On January 1, 1980, he was appointed General Manager of the GE Aircraft Equipment Division with headquarters in Utica, New York. In 1984, he left GE to join Textron as Executive Vice President-Aerospace, moving to Senior Executive Vice President-Operations in 1986. He was also a consultant to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and was a member of the Defense Science Board & the NASA Advisory Council. In 1988, he retired from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of major general.
General Anders became Vice Chairman of the General Dynamic Corporation in 1990 and was made Chairman & Chief Executive Office on January 1, 1991. In 1993 he retired as an employee of the corporation but remained Chairman of the Board until May of 1994 when he fully retired from company service. He holds many awards, including Distinguished Service Medals from the Air Force, NASA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Air Force Commendation Medal; the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for Exploration; the Collier, Harmon, Goddard and White Trophies; and the American Astronautical Society’s Flight Achievement Award.
William Anders has also been awarded several honorary doctoral degrees. He holds several world flight records and received the American Defense Preparedness Association’s first Industry Leadership Award in May 1993. Anders Crater on the Moon is named in his honor.
William A. Anders Quotes
“You could see the flames and the outer skin of the spacecraft glowing; and burning, baseball-size chunks flying off behind us. It was an eerie feeling, like being a gnat inside a blowtorch flame.” (On being atop the lift-off of the Saturn V rocket.)
“I think Isaac Newton is doing most of the driving now.” (When told that a ground controller’s son had asked who was driving the capsule on the return from the Moon to the Earth, 26 December 1968.)
“Is the Moon made out of green cheese? No, it’s American cheese.” (After splashdown, while the first humans to travel to the Moon were waiting to be picked up out of the ocean, someone called from the ship or the helicopter asking is the Moon made of green cheese)
“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
“Now approaching lunar sunrise. And for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo eight has a message that we would like to send to you. ‘In the Beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void. And darkness was upon the face of the Deep. . . . And God saw that it was Good. . . . ” And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas. And God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.’ (Flight crew of Apollo 8, Christmas Eve, 1968).