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Anacortes Astronaut Marks Milestone of Moon Shot

Fifty years ago this December, Apollo 8 astronauts William (Bill) Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman were the first to enter lunar orbit, and Anders—now a resident of Anacortes—joined Lovell and Borman as they read from the Bible that memorable Christmas Eve for all the world to hear.

“In the beginning God created heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” Anders read in a live radio transmission heard worldwide as the three orbited the moon on December 24, 1968.

Anders, 85, lives with his wife, Valerie, in the Skagit Valley, where aviation remains a fundamental part of his life. In 1996, he founded the Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham, and he moved it five years ago to its current home in Burlington at the Skagit Regional Airport. There, amid vintage aircraft, references to Anders’ 1968 Apollo flight abound at the museum and on its website.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8’s momentous journey, when the first men to leave Earth’s orbit went to the moon. The men’s mission consisted of 10 lunar orbits, during which time Anders was tasked with photographing the moon’s dark side—the side hidden from Earth. However, it wasn’t his photos of the moon that grabbed the attention of the world, but his unplanned shots of the Earth from space. The famous photo, “Earthrise,” showed our planet as it had never been seen before. The photo brought to light Earth’s fragility and is credited with igniting the environmental movement in the following decade. A framed copy, signed by the crew, is on display at the museum, along with other artifacts.

Anders’ resume doesn’t stop at astronaut or even world-famous photographer. After space travel, he was named to the president’s Atomic Energy Commission, served as the ambassador to Norway, and worked as a successful top executive at both General Electric and Textron. Later, in a project closer to heart, he founded the museum. Today, two of Anders’ sons, Alan and Greg, run the Skagit County museum along with their father with a mission to tell the stories of U.S. combat veterans through the collection’s 14 antique “warbird” planes.

While Greg and Bill came to the love of flight through their careers in the U.S. Air Force, Alan had to learn “the hard way,” as Greg put it, through civilian training in flying.

The collection features giants like the Skyraider, introduced as an armed search-and-rescue vehicle during the Vietnam War. The plane burns about 1.5 gallons of gas a minute (about three at takeoff) and weighs about 7,500 pounds, says Greg as he narrated a recent tour of the museum.

Each plane appears to have been meticulously placed in the hanger like a jigsaw puzzle. Walking from one to the next involves ducking and weaving. The planes aren’t held behind velvet ropes—you can actually reach out and touch history. And when the weather’s good, you can see and hear it too, during the museum’s monthly air shows from April to October. “You get to see [the planes] live and breathe here. There is nothing quite like the hearing the Skyraider start up. It is quite the experience,” says Greg. The museum’s Skyraider is one of seven still flying in the world. Greg, who saw combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom, still regularly flies the Skyraider along with his other favorites, the AT-6D Hog Wild Gunner and the P-51 Mustang.

The majority of the museum’s vehicles were donated by Bill and Valerie, along with private donations and a few planes owned by Greg and on loan for display. The Anders men, Bill included, still visit the skies regularly in their favorite aircrafts. The museum is planning a campaign next year for a big expansion project, set for completion in 2020. It would nearly double the museum’s size to make room for more hanger space and two additional education rooms to tell the story of Bill Anders’ trip to moon in the context of the turmoil of 1968. Bill and family will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 at the San Diego Air and Space Museum on December 20th.

Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Jim Lovell (Courtesy of NASA)

Greg Anders at Heritage Flight Museum (Photo Credit: Hailey Hoffman)

15053 Crosswind Dr., Burlington
360.424.5151 | heritageflight.org

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"Fifty years ago this December, Apollo 8 astronauts William (Bill) Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman were the first to enter lunar orbit..."