Brevard-based photographer Bruce Weaver, known for his iconic image of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s catastrophic breakup in a fiery plume after liftoff, has passed away at the age of 77. The North Brevard Funeral Home confirmed his peaceful passing in Titusville, Florida, with his wife and family at his side.
Weaver, who worked as a freelance photographer for The Associated Press, was one of numerous eyewitnesses at the Kennedy Space Center when the Challenger took off on January 28, 1986, carrying New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts. Tragically, just 73 seconds after liftoff, the shuttle disintegrated, claiming the lives of all seven crew members. The disaster was attributed to damaged O-ring seals in the right booster, exacerbated by the exceptionally cold conditions of the launch.
What set Weaver apart from other photographers present that day was that he hadn’t exhausted the 36 frames on his film roll when the shuttle began to break apart. Unlike his peers who had to rewind their film, Weaver could continue capturing the horrifying images of the Challenger’s disintegration into billowing plumes of smoke and flames.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1946, Weaver’s family relocated to Florida five years later. In addition to his photography, he pursued careers in engineering and video production, as noted by the funeral home. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Deloris, his high school sweetheart, along with a son and grandson.