Photo: Father and son at first and last Space Shuttle launches, 30 years apart


"Father and Son: STS-1 and STS-135," a photo by Chris Bray, who is the younger of the two in these side-by-side captures from the very first shuttle launch thirty years ago, and the final one, last Friday. "The picture we waited 30 years to complete."

(Flickr, via Reddit and Laughing Squid.)


  1. As a side note, what the hell happens to us – the whole aging thing really amazes me when you really think about it. I’ll bet father and son neither feels like it’s been 30 years since that time. I know it’s reality, I know it’s something few of us really focus on – but time goes faster than we all think. I’m fascinated by long scale time, but the short amounts that make up our lives is truly amazing too – even if in terms of what happens to our own skin envelope.

    If nothing else this photo says to me “savor every moment”. Something few of us really are able to do in daily life.

    1. As a side note, what the hell happens to us – the whole aging thing really amazes me when you really think about it.

      Those who would like to continue the shuttle program would be well advised to remember that the spacecraft themselves have not been immune from the effects of time either.

    2. YES..can relate..WAS 17 goin on 18 at THE TIME..LIKE yesterday..watched it on PS1 h.s.A-V tv…IN SOME ways the same….WAS amazing piece of machinery..

  2. What’s impressive is that the son’s T-shirt is still in great condition and has barely faded at all in color. 30 years is a long time for a cotton T-shirt.

    1. What’s interesting to me is how much nicer the colours are in the 1981 photo compared to the 2011. Film vs digital?

  3. I think I’m going to be a bit sad commenting this, but it also shows how deeply folding chairs have pervaded outdoor society in the last 30 years.

    1. Really? Folding chair pervasiveness? The sad part is all the fat people sitting in the folding chairs.

      1. The SAD part is so many of you are focusing on inane background cruft rather than the sad poignant passing of time and a touching moment between father and son.

        1. The passage of time
          Is flickering upon the screen
          I can’t see the lines
          I used to think I could read between

          – a tune to help pass the time.

          But “sad”? These photos? No, not really.

          Time is, time was. Any “sadness” is in the heart of the beholder.

  4. The son’s t-shirt is not the same one in both photos. The 1981 is a v-neck, and the 2011 is a crew neck. Just sayin’.

  5. I’m looking forward to a photo of the two of them at the launch of the shuttle’s replacement a few years down the road.

  6. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the same shirt (unless the author’s said so elsewhere).

    If anything, it’s *bigger*, so if it’s the same shirt, it’s undergone some major stretching.

    Gotta love the Super 8 cam (?).

  7. I hate to be a hater but this is a total fail. They went through all the effort to pull this off and then messed up such a obvious detail. Of course I’m talking about the dad’s shirt. He could have easily found a black t-shirt and this would have been perfect. Wearing that plaid thing ruins the whole effort. What a waste.

    1. Also those glasses have no lanyard, NO LANYARD!!!! Plus where’s his watch, Does he not know what time it is??? Plus his hair. For fuck sake could he have not popped in to Alicia’s Hair Salon in Titusville for a quick once over? Chris seems to have taken up plucking which is hardly in synch with the hairiness of the time. Ad infinitum.

    2. Aw, ya hater. A total fail woulda meant they didn’t do it at all. Like the rest of us.

      Go wash yer mouth out with… well, whatever you have that’s as punitive as soap!

      1. Er… while I appreciate the rebukes, I do have to agree with Sean here.

        This is not an opportunity you get every day. Clearly, the son at least had this idea beforehand and sought out a similar shirt, so it wasn’t a spur of the moment idea.

        Every other detail is wrong. The original photo is a really, really nice family photo, as well as a reasonably good piece of photojournalism – it shows what the atmosphere was like and the feeling among the crowd – and simply the fact that people were packed all along the roads. Composition is really quite good.

        So if you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-do the photo like this, why would you half-ass it? The poses are 75% incorrect, the dad’s clothes are 200% incorrect (absolutely no effort), the background is about as awful as possible (is this a special space shuttle launch, or a fourth of july fireworks show? you can’t tell). It’s hard to tell but it looks like the new one was shot with a DSLR, but not by somebody who really knows what to do with it. At least a bit of color-correction to roughly match the original would have helped.

        1. I hope we get a definitive answer from the family, but my guess is that it wasn’t a staged shot at all. The dad had binoculars to see the shuttle better when he was a relatively young man; not so surprising he would still use them as an old man. They’re both wearing casual, comfortable men’s clothing, which has not changed much in 30 years. (Yes, I’m envious.) Even which side of your parents you sit on can end up becoming normal without anyone consciously realizing it. I assume maybe the mom or an uncle or older brother is the photographer both times, so it makes sense that the son is accustomed to sit between them.

          Here’s my guess: it was after they printed the photo and then added it to their Space Shuttle scrapbook that they realized the uncanny likeness.

    3. I hate to be a hater but…

      Why am I always skeptical of any statement that begins this way?

  8. I hope when I’m in my mid-40s I can still pull off the “Daaaaaaaaad, I’m BOOOOOOOORED” look as well as I could when I was a teenager.

  9. Could be they didn’t have an RV to stand on this time. Could be Pops had other priorities than dressing up for the photo. Probably your families wouldn’t have screwed up such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    Guess they might as well have stayed home.

  10. It’s funny that the newer picture looks worse than the old picture. I like the skin tones and depth of field of the older photo. The newer lacks those elements.

  11. I like the skin tones and depth of field of the older photo.

    Thus the (fake and real) tanning industry. The new photo has accurate colors. Northern Europeans are pink, not amber.

  12. thanks for reminding me that it has been 30 years since i stood in that exact spot, at that exact time! doesn’t feel that long.

    i still fit in my sts-1 t-shirt, but that’s mainly because the vendor i bought it off of was so fat (bought his last one right off his back).

    wish i had been able to take my sons for the last one!

  13. Speaking with my metaphorical photographer hat on…

    Taking a good photo mostly isn’t about the camera, film or sensor that’s used. Waiting for good light is half the battle.

    That said, I like the left one better because of the nice vanishing point, the time of day, the negative space between son and dad, and because the people look like they’re having more fun.

    While some of the obvious color difference is probably due to film vs digital, I’d argue that most of the difference is in composition and in lighting.


  14. Talk about missing the point folks, these photos are about what changed as much as what hasn’t changed. The background, the cameras, heck even the color shows the changes that have happened in our world over the time period. The son grew up a hell of a lot. It’s just a fact; a father 30 years older just doesn’t wear the same clothes as he wore 30 years ago. Yet you can see the bond between the two in both photos. Incredible! Savor every moment indeed.

  15. Aww, I was hoping this Chris Bray was Ambrose Beers from, but that’s the other one.

  16. “what’s this, something cool on the internet? PLEASE ALLOW ME TO SHIT ALL OVER IT.”

  17. I’m soooooo jealous of this father and son. I had press credentials for the 1st launch in ’81 and was in the bleachers on press row (a mere 3 miles from the launch site) along with my oldest son and my father-in-law. I highly regret not making the effort to be at this last launch with both of my sons. It was both a glorious and a sad day for the space program.

  18. I looked around, but I did not see anywhere that Chris Bray was seeking any kind of critique or advice on his photo project. For all those who feel it necessary to offer negative commentary, why don’t you show everyone here YOUR photos of the two spaceshuttle events instead of judging and picking apart Chris’s efforts? Or just keep quiet.

  19. I love the changes/progression in the pictures. It shows the changes in people, styles, etc. I think it’s truly remarkable that the father & son in the picture could be there for both and absolutely love this idea. It’s along the same lines of people who vacation to the same spot every year, but slightly more dramatic and touching since this is for this was for shuttle launches. I love it! Well done!

  20. I worked on the Space Shuttle program. I recognize the location of photo #1 (the shuttle is off to the left, not in the background of the photo). Buildings in background are at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a separate entity from the Kennedy Space Center.

    Don’t know about photo #2, but presume it’s in the same place, as NASA has only allowed the public to view launches from one particular area. If that is indeed the case, camera is looking in the same direction (i.e. southeast, about 120-deg. on compass point) and shuttle will again be off to the left.

    For those of you who care more about the location than the shirt…

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