We’ve Lost Another Great One

Bill Anders has died, apparently piloting his own plane.

He was the astronaut who took the iconic photo of the whole Earth from the Moon on his trip around it on Apollo 8, which was the actual moment when we won the space race. And it became the icon for the environmental movement, for good or ill.

I consider myself privileged to consider him a friend, and I’ll explain why anon, but for now, farewell, yet another hero of that era, who (unlike many of his Apollo cohorts) understood how important commercial space was.

[Saturday-afternoon update]

I was at AIAA SciTech Forum in San Diego in 2016. Bill was speaking, discussing the history of Apollo, while standing under a huge Lockheed Martin banner (they were the primary sponsor of the event). He was talking about risk aversion and how it was holding us back in space, and how today’s NASA could not do Apollo in terms of the accepted (at that time) risk. In other words, echoing themes from my book.

But he also started to bash SLS and Orion, wondering out loud why we were building them (this was after SpaceX had started landing boosters, which happened in 2015). After his talk, I walked down to meet him, and gave him a copy of my book and a business card, and talked to him for a few minutes. As we were talking, Ann Sulkosky (who had replaced Jeff Bingham as chief staffer on the Senate Space subcommittee, and then gone on to become a flack at Lockmart) came running down with her hair on fire, saying “Bill, Bill! What are you doing?” It was hilarious, because obviously Bill had no copulations to give.

Anyway, a couple weeks later, he called me, and said “I got around to reading your book, and I couldn’t put it down.” We talked for half an hour or so.

Later, Alex McDonald at NASA got some money to do a study on safety and risk acceptance, much of which was based on my book, and gave a contract to Resources for the Future, a think tank in DC where Molly MacCauley worked, and she was put in charge of the study. There was a workshop at their place in Dupont Circle to which I was invited, along with fairly high-level people, including the chairman of the ASAP, Scott Pace, Jim Bennett, and some historians. She also invited Bill, who attended by phone (it was hard to get him to leave his home in the San Juan islands). We had a bad connection, and ultimately decided to give it up, but before he hung up, he said “I think that everyone should read Rand’s book.”

Tragically, Molly was murdered near her home in Baltimore a few months later, stabbed in the neck. Her dogs stayed with her, but she’d exsanguinated before she was found. No motive or murderer was ever found. When her co-workers tried to finish the report, they couldn’t find her files, so it was never published (a very frustrating thing, not just for the shocking loss of Molly, but the failure to spread the word on the problem of risk aversion beyond my book).

General Anders was one of the most accomplished of the former Apollo astronauts, and remained sharp (as far as I know) right up until the plane crash. I was honored to know him.

[Monday-morning update]

Bob Zimmerman remembers the astronaut who like to go fast.


7 thoughts on “We’ve Lost Another Great One”

  1. Condolences on the loss of your friend and by extension to us all for losing an iconic American hero. It is a shame that most of the Apollo era astronauts have gone the way of all flesh without seeing us go back to the Moon an establish a base there.

  2. The one regret I have is that the photo is always shown sideways. I get that the name, Earth’rise’ implies an upward motion, but my knowledge that they were swinging around the ‘side’ of the Moon always gives me cognitive dissonance.

    When I put together an art show years ago for the annual Moon Day event at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, the museum had a guy who had a large high quality print of the photo, and I forced the Museum Director to mount it in the ‘proper’ orientation. He then had to print up an explanation as to why it was displayed that way. But you can see Australia in the image, which gives the N/S orientation for Earth.

    Another thing that came out of the image was the Blue Marble TV show back in the 70s. It helped Gen X grow up with a much fuller sense of the shared nature of our human experience on this planet, and just how fragile is our biosphere. Because it’s all clearly the same place, no matter how far one is from Jerusalem, or Beijing, or Kiev here on the ground.

  3. I was in fact CO-PI on the NASA-RFF study; I did the historical analogy research on risk acceptance in hazardous scientific field research. After the enormous misfortune of losing Molly Macauley and her brilliance in the economics of space, the secondary loss of Molly’s core research was as you say a major misfortune for the field. Having been co-investigator on a number of previous projects with Molly, I knew that her modus operandi was to stuff an enormous amount of data into her head, process it somehow by her unique methods, and then write the conclusions. “Showing her work” wasn’t really a thing with her, unless you were capable of performing the Vulcan mind meld. When I worked with her project officer and her researcher to try to reconstitute enough of her work to finish, I knew it was a lost cause. As co-PIs, our typical work mode was to meet at Afterwords on Dupont Circle and work through our joint thinking with coffees. There was no way to recover that. I can say with confidence that our conclusions were parallel to yours, Molly was just working through to the economic theory to support it.

    That final workshop that Scott, Alex, and you, among others, attended — sort of an All-Stars of commercial space thought — was videotaped by RFF. I would love to have a copy of that tape, ad I think having it on a publicly-available website would be the next best thing to having the report.

  4. ” Tragically, Molly was murdered near her home in Baltimore …

    Surely it’s a paranoid conspiracy mindset that leaps to wondering what Boeing’s interest in a “safety review” might entail …

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