In Their Own Words: William Anders on Becoming an Astronaut
"I graduated from the Air Force institute of Technology with a master's degree in nuclear engineering, I was assigned to the Air Force Special Weapons center. They had a branch called a nuclear power branch, I didn't see myself as a weapons guy. And so I wiggled into this power branch and ran shielding experiments not just for the Air Force but also for NASA. There was a nuclear power rocket program at the time. So I had a lot of interaction with NASA that stood me well in the selection process to become an astronaut.
I found out later that I was one of the hundred and forty out of some 5000 applicants that had applied. I got another call four months later come down for and this time we had to do written tests and I went up before a small board including Deke Slayton (manager of the Astronaut office at NASA). And to my amazement on my birthday in 1963 I got a call from Slayton saying 'how would you like to come work for us?' We were in the cold war. Kennedy said we're going to do it not because it is easy but because it's hard. This struck me as the epitome of serving my country. But in those days the cold war was alive and well and there was a chance to serve.
I heard Kennedy's speech and I was shocked and thinking well that would be one way to serve but in the end with my background I've always wanted to see what was on the other side of the mountain. I had an exploration urge. The idea of trying to define what the moon was made of really fascinated me because when I was a kid, I was a rock hound collected rocks and minerals. And so here was a chance to go to the moon and see what was there. But the main reason for Apollo was to beat the Russians even though NASA really didn't like that role. They wanted to make it an exploratory role in a more romantic justified role but it was just another battle in the Cold War."