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“It’s going to be two pictures [from AP or UPI]. It’ll be the teacher walking out, picture one, and picture two is the liftoff,” she said. “So we’re watching it on television and we see picture one, and then they lift off and then we watch the whole thing [explode].”

Mr. Andrews heard from Mr. McVea shortly afterward and caught a plane from Orlando to New York, where the Newsweek staffer met him at the airport. They took the film to be processed, and one of the photos that emerged graced the cover of the magazine’s Challenger commemorative edition days later.

“It was just amazing how sharp and in focus [it was], and he actually got the actual moment of the explosion,” Mr. McVea said. “It was just mind-numbing.”

Moving on

As the shuttle program winds to a close, Mr. Andrews has stepped up his efforts to chronicle every aspect of the operation. Last year, at the suggestion of astronaut Alan G. Poindexter, Mr. Andrews, his son Philip and Apple software engineer Stan Jirman documented the entire process of preparing a shuttle for flight.

Using remote cameras embedded throughout Kennedy Space Center, they assembled a time-lapse film from thousands of still photos depicting every step of Discovery’s preparation before Mr. Poindexter and his crew took off on the 131st shuttle mission, along with the launch and landing.

The project amounted to a tribute by Mr. Poindexter, Mr. Andrews and the rest to the thousands of men and women who have worked behind the scenes to keep the shuttle program running. Most of them will be out of a job shortly after Atlantis completes its final flight.

“We knew the program wasn’t going to last forever,” Mr. Poindexter said. “It’s unfortunate that the follow-on programs are going to be delayed somewhat and we are going to see a loss of jobs. It’s really difficult for a lot of friends of ours that dedicated their lives to this business and now are looking for other things to do.”

Though photographing shuttle launches is only a minor part of Mr. Andrews‘ day job, plenty of people are wondering what he will do now that a program that has inspired so much of his work is gone.

Not to worry, Mr. Andrews said. He’ll have plenty of work to do during the upcoming presidential campaign, the conventions and the ensuing inauguration, and for the first time in memory he’ll be able to plan a vacation with his wife of 32 years, Martha, and not worry that NASA might get in the way.

Whenever manned spaceflight returns to the cape, though, it’s a safe bet that Mr. Andrews will be there setting out his cameras just like he has for years.

“I would certainly hope so,” he said. “I would certainly have my thumb out on 95.”