Photographers' Blog

Closing the chapter on the space shuttle

Cape Canaveral, Florida

By Joe Skipper

The decades-long assignment started with covering the first space shuttle launch, Columbia, on April 12, 1981. A recent visit to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A wrapped up the story for me. Often we cover assignments not knowing how long it will take, and my part in coverage of NASA’s space shuttle program seemed as if it would last forever. With the landing of the shuttle Atlantis on July 21, 2011, however, we thought the assignment was over.

But it wasn’t complete yet. With the shuttles headed for public display, the assignment continued a bit longer in order to cover the preparation and their ultimate departure from the space center.

Longtime members of our Reuters shuttle photo team, Pierre DuCharme and Scott Audette, joined me for a final look at the historic pad before it would be demolished to be reconfigured for the next U.S. manned spaceflight program. We were hosted by NASA Photo Editor Ken Thornsley and our longtime NASA media escort and friend, Charlie Parker, a retired NASA engineer.

The pad was the focus of so many years of shuttle launch coverage, along with the sister pad, 39B, which has been dismantled and is now being reconfigured as a multi-purpose launch pad. Soon, the Pad A structure will be removed as well. Pad A has been used for more manned missions than any pad at the Kennedy Space Center or the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, including Apollo 11, the first manned landing on the moon, the first and last space shuttle launches and many in between.

Our tour, led by NASA’s Pad Operations Manager Steve Bulloch, began with entering the massive air conditioning support rooms beneath the pad. Beneath the pad, we were shown the amazing Apollo-era Emergency Escape System, which included a slide system and a domed ‘blast room’, built on springs to absorb shock and sealed by massive blast doors, to protect Apollo astronauts and pad crew members if a problem occurred in the final moments before launch. The system was never used. After so many years of shuttle and expendable rocket launch coverage, we had no idea the escape system even existed.

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Gainesville, Florida

By Steve Johnson

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”

Its origins come from Genesis 3:19 (King James Verison): “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

We celebrate death in so many different ways. From sky burials in Tibet, to hanging coffins in ancient China, how we honor the dead is varied and changing.

In the United States and Canada, vault burials have grown in popularity since the early 1900s. With more than 19,000 funeral homes and 8,000 embalmers in the U.S. alone according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Strip club visit (It’s a political assignment)

By Brian Blanco

“No Honey, really, it’s a POLITICAL assignment related to the upcoming RNC.” I could see a familiar smirk slide into place on my wife’s face as I explained exactly where, and what, I’d be shooting later that evening.

As a photojournalist based in Tampa, Florida, one of the most important political battleground areas of, arguably, the most important political battleground state in national politics, my wife has become accustomed to being an “election-season widow” for long stretches at a time as I cover the myriad of predictable bus tours, stump speeches, rallies, and debates that crop up in my coverage area. Strip clubs however… well that was a first for both of us.

With the Republican National Convention coming to Tampa, a city somewhat notorious for, or at least noted for, it’s strip clubs, there was a story to tell about the clubs’ anticipated surge in attendance during the week of the convention. This was a legitimate politics story and I was just the man to shoot it. Exactly how I would shoot it, well, that was another story all together.

Waist deep in Tropical Storm Debby

By Brian Blanco

It’s an awkward feeling walking through someone’s home while photographing their children sloshing through rising floodwater in the living room. It is, I can assure you, another feeling entirely when that same homeowner yells down from the second floor, “It could be worse, at least we still have power” as I look over to see the electrical outlets mere seconds away from being submerged. These are the moments that help to remind me that there are dangers involved in covering just about any natural disaster and that it’s important not to be complacent just because a named storm may “only” be a tropical storm, as was the case with Tropical Storm Debby.

SLIDESHOW: DEBBY SLAMS FLORIDA

As a Florida-based photojournalist I’ve covered more named storms than I can recall, ranging from those forgettable storms that, thankfully, produced little more than twigs in the street, to the now infamous Hurricane Katrina. I’ll admit that I was initially guilty of underestimating this storm. After getting the call from Reuters to cover Tropical Storm Debby, I was packing my car when my wife popped into the garage to tell me to be careful and I scoffed and said, “Oh Honey it’s “just” a tropical storm. I’ll go make some rain features and be back in a couple of days.” As it turns out, I was wrong, this storm caused more damage from flooding and tornadoes than I’ve ever seen a tropical storm cause. It ended up touching a lot of lives and, in meeting those affected, touched my life as well.

Logistically speaking, covering Debby was easy. There were no wide-spread power outages, no fuel shortages, no lack of hotel rooms, cell service remained uninterrupted and most businesses and restaurants remained open. All of this meant that I, thankfully, didn’t have to turn my car into a rolling Molotov cocktail with fuel tanks. I didn’t have to transmit photos via an expensive and complicated BGAN (sat phone) and, most importantly, I didn’t have to sleep in my car.

Tennis, with strings attached

By Kevin Lamarque

The average weekend tennis hacker might never have their racquet restrung. A serious player might have their racquets strung every month, but for most players, once a year suffices. A top professional tennis player strings up to 6-racquets before EVERY match.

As a keen club player who strings his own racquets, I’ve always been intrigued by the elite teams of stringing professionals who work the major professional tournaments.

In the dark indoor passage that rings center court here at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, players and coaches make their way to the stringing room, a daily ritual that goes unseen to the general tennis public.

Tent city in Florida offers hope

Click here or on any of the pictures below to launch an audio slideshow.******A Florida tent city for hundreds of homeless people lies at the end of a dead-end street, but residents say they have not given up hope of a better life despite the U.S. economic downturn.************The Pinellas Hope camp, 250 single-person tents in neat rows on land owned by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg in a wooded area north of the city, has room for about 270 and has been filled to capacity since it opened two years ago.************”I could open the gates and have over 500 people,” said Sheila Lopez, the chief operating officer for Catholic Charities at the St. Petersburg diocese.******The camp has a food hall, bathrooms and showers, a laundry room and a few computers for residents to look for jobs and prepare resumes.************”This is a great place to be. It gives us a great opportunity,” said Alex, a resident who declined to give his last name. “We have a safe place to live. It sure beats sleeping on the street.”******The number of homeless people in the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is difficult to pin down, advocacy groups say, because most people are homeless for only a short period of time.************The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates about 675,000 people are homeless on any given night during a one-month period. Between 2.5 million and 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness for at least one night in a year.******The alliance said it expects more than 1 million people to become homeless as a result of the current recession.