Ten Years Later: The Impact of The Tragic Columbia Space Shuttle Photo


Two days ago marked the 10th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, in which 7 astronauts lost their lives during reentry as the rest of us watched horror-struck from the ground. The following day, newspapers the world over were announcing the tragic news, all of them using the same photo taken, not by a prolific AP photographer, but a cardiologist and his 6.3MP Canon D60.

At the time, Dr. Scott Lieberman had to order the camera special from Canada (as he couldn’t find one in the US), paying the hefty sum of $2,200. In an interesting article on Poynter, Lieberman discusses that fateful picture and the freelance photography career it has led to.

The photo, however, seems to have had a much broader impact than just launching Lieberman’s freelance career:

When Lieberman’s Columbia image ran on the cover of Time, the photojournalism establishment still regarded digital photography with a slightly wary eye … Irby says Lieberman’s photograph did ‘contribute to the strong validation in the potential and power of digital photography for real time news coverage.’

In addition to validating digital photography as a newsworthy medium, the fact that Lieberman spends the majority of his working hours at his interventional cardiology practice also had an impact. The photo is one of a few that marks the beginning of citizen photojournalism. Sadly, many believe those photos also mark the end of many a professional photojournalist’s career.

To get the full story behind this and the hundreds of AP photos Lieberman has taken since, check out the full article on Poynter.

Texas doctor who captured iconic image of Columbia disaster is now a working photographer [Poynter via The Verge]

Image credits: Photo courtesy of Newseum

  • Samcornwell

    You know I had to read this several times before I realised it was nothing to do with that young boy being held hostage in the USA.

  • sawn

    There are plenty trained journalist, or students for that matter, that are without a job, despite their good work. Congrats to this person for taking a historic photo but getting a contract with the AP is another story. And what’s the deal with the Dr… byline.

  • DLCade

    Sorry for the confusion, we changed the title to something a bit clearer.

  • Samcornwell

    Hey, don’t be sorry. I think it’s because I saw a Tweet right next to this one about that boy and they both looked strangely similar.

  • Scott M Lieberman, MD

    Well I am a doctor.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    oh snap

  • ProtoWhalePig

    Glad we solved that mystery.

  • Anthony

    Readers are leaders—the story itself says he is a doctor.