On board the Apollo 8 spacecraft, the trio was part of the first crewed mission to the Moon and back, and while they would not land on the surface during this trip (nor any future one), they captured one of the most lovely images of Earth to date. That led NASA planners to abandon their step-by-step plan and consider sending Apollo 8's astronauts - Anders, Jim Lovell and mission commander Frank Borman - on their own round-the-moon trip.
But 50 years ago Friday, Frank Borman, an astronaut born in the Steel City, was launched with two others in a small capsule atop the first crewed Saturn V rocket. He and crew members Jim Lovell and Bill Anders would be the first humans to ride the Saturn V rocket.
Susan Byrum Rountree, photographed in 1968, holds her first camera, a gift that came the day after the Apollo 8 crew broadcast from space. The following year it became a U.S. postage stamp and would go on to adorn countless T-shirts, magazine covers and works of art. Life magazine labelled it one of the "100 photographs that changed the world", while Time include it as one of the 100 most influential images of all time.
As the turbulent year neared its end, millions of Americans watched an emotional broadcast of the Apollo 8 crew reading from the book of Genesis as the craft orbited the moon on Christmas Eve.
KELLY: And get you home, yeah. "In this case, they jumped three or four steps", the 85-year-old Anders, who now lives in Anacortes, Wash., says during the show.
And now it was Christmas Eve.
"First of all, I thought it was oil running down the spacecraft window", he says. Lovell confirmed the successful firing of the engines by telling mission control, "Please be informed there is a Santa Claus". Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.
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Back in Houston, meanwhile, a limousine driver knocked on Marilyn Lovell's door and handed her a gift-wrapped mink stole with a card that read: "To Marilyn, Merry Christmas from the man in the moon". The first Earth Day was marked in the USA just over a year later, in April 1970, while the founding of environmental organisations such as Greenpeace wasn't far behind. At this point, no one had planned it, no one had calculated it, the astronauts noticed this bluish fingernail arch that was suddenly poking up over the lunar surface.
"Oh my God, look at that picture over there!" exclaimed Anders. That's what Borman, Lovell and Anders felt, and that's the message they wanted to spread when they returned and the "Earthrise" picture took on an iconic significance and became one of the most important pictures of the 20th century.
Anders is critical of NASA and its mission since the Apollo era calling the space shuttle "a serious error" and stating that NASA has mismanaged the manned program since the late lunar landings. For the first time, humanity saw the Earth, this spinning blue and white world which contains everything we value. As it turned out, a single photo would do most of the talking - a shot of the Earth coming up above the horizon.
"Earthrise" also helped fuel the environmental movement. But what Apollo 8 did was solidify the one thing that everybody was proud of.
"Over 3 billion people, mountains, oceans, deserts, everything I ever knew was behind my thumb", he recalled at a recent anniversary celebration at Washington's National Cathedral.
Nasa was approached for a response to Anders' comments, but hasn't responded.
By July 1969, Apollo 8 was overshadowed by Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin moon landing.