Photographer Who Shot Iconic Image of Challenger Disaster Dies

Photographer Bruce Weaver, who shot the definitive image of space shuttle Challenger breaking apart has died.
From left to right: Photographer Bruce Weaver and the NASA photo of the Challenger Explosion (not Weaver’s image)

Photographer Bruce Weaver, who shot the definitive image of the Space Shuttle Challenger breaking apart after lift-off, has died.

According to an obituary published by North Brevard Funeral Home in Titusville, Florida, Weaver passed away peacefully at the age of 77 on Friday with his wife and family by his side.

Weaver was born in Pittsburgh in 1946 and his family moved to Florida five years later. Along with a love for racing, Weaver had a passion for photography.

Weaver initially worked as an engineer. However, he left this career to pursue photojournalism full-time — with the creation of Earthlite Photography.

According to North Brevard Funeral Home, Weaver believed in the importance of visually documenting history and important events so future historians could better understand the times.

Working as a freelance photographer for The Associated Press, Weaver covered natural disasters, Presidential meetings, the Pope, motorsports, as well as the NFL.

How a Photographer Captured The Moment The Challenger Disintegrated

Weaver also significantly shot the moment that the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after lift-off at the Kennedy Space Center — as it was carrying aboard schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts on January 28, 1986.

Launched on a very cold morning, the Challenger was brought down by eroded O-ring seals in the right booster. The space shuttle disintegrated and killed all seven crew members.

AP News reports that Weaver captured the photograph of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster at a time when film was still being used.

According to AP News, Weaver had not filled up the 36 frames on his roll by the time the shuttle started breaking apart, while other photographers who had gone through their film needed to rewind the roll before inserting a new roll of film.

Because of that, Weaver was able to capture the horrifying images of Challenger as it disintegrated into plumes of smoke and flames.

Weaver is survived by his wife of 57 years and high school sweetheart Deloris as well as a son and grandson. Along with his professional career as a photographer, Weaver enjoyed shooting wildlife, family gatherings, and his son and grandson.

Image credits: Header photo via North Brevard Funeral Home and Wikimedia Commons.