Peter Cosgrove, photographer of more than 100 space shuttle launches, is dead at 84

A former Associated Press photographer in Florida who covered more than 100 space shuttle launches, the Elian Gonzalez saga, and the presidential recount has died.

Cosgrove died of a heart attack in his sleep on Saturday in Orlando, Fla.

Peter Cosgrove posed for this portrait on April 18, 2003. Cosgrove, an Associated Press photographer in Florida, covered more than 100 space shuttle launches, the Elian Gonzalez saga, countless sporting events and the presidential recount before he died. He was 84. (Phil Sandlin/Associated Press)

A former Associated Press photographer in Florida who covered more than 100 space shuttle launches, the Elian Gonzalez saga and the presidential recount has died.

Peter Cosgrove died of a heart attack in his sleep on Saturday in Orlando, Fla., at age 84.

During a journalism career that spanned almost 50 years, the last eight as a staffer with The Associated Press, Cosgrove covered former president Richard Nixon's meeting with South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu at Midway and four Apollo moon-mission crew recoveries at sea.

Cosgrove captured the space shuttle Atlantis nearing the launch pad, left, aboard the crawler transporter at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Nov. 10, 2007. Atlantis was bound for the International Space Station. (Peter Cosgrove/Associated Press)

He was also aboard the USS Hornet when the first moonwalkers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and pilot Michael Collins, returned to Earth and were picked up in the Pacific by the aircraft carrier in 1969.

Cosgrove covered two of NASA's greatest tragedies while reporting from Cape Canaveral, Fla. — the Challenger explosion and the demise of the space shuttle Columbia.
Cosgrove captured this photo of a member of the team investigating the Columbia space shuttle disaster checking out wreckage in a hangar at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2003. On the right is a window frame from the shuttle. (Peter Cosgrove/Associated Press)

Calm, clear-headed

"Pete was a legend at the Cape for his space program coverage, as well as a mentor to many photographers in the Sunshine State," AP director of photography David Ake wrote AP photographers on Tuesday.

Cosgrove was known for his calmness and clear-headedness when mayhem was breaking out around him.

He was with protesters outside the home of Elian Gonzalez's relatives in Miami's Little Havana in 2000 when federal authorities arrived in pre-dawn hours to take away the six-year-old Cuban boy and reunite him with his father.

'Alan, the disk'

Inside the home, AP photographer Alan Diaz had captured images of an armed and helmeted federal agent seizing the boy from a bedroom.

When Diaz exited the home amid pepper spray and mace, he sat down on the front steps, a bit in a daze. Cosgrove yelled to him, "'Alan, the disk,"' said Joe Skipper, a Reuters photographer who often covered the same stories with Cosgrove.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Associated Press photojournalist Alan Diaz, captured Elian Gonzalez, 6, right, being removed from a home in Miami by police on April 22, 2000. It was quick thinking by fellow photographer Cosgrove that got the photo into the hands of editors. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)

Cosgrove grabbed the disk from Diaz and ran with it to nearby editors who would transmit the images from inside the house around the world. The iconic photo of a terrified-looking Elian won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize.

Cosgrove's distinguishing characteristics were his kindness and generosity to his colleagues and competitors, whether it was sneaking away from a media vigil outside the Florida Supreme Court during the 2000 presidential recount to buy hot coffee for other photographers or his habit of grabbing sodas from the media room at Jacksonville Jaguar games to give to security guards as he made his way to the field.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Cosgrove started in the news business in 1957, shortly after his discharge from the Navy, when he took a job as a telephoto engineer with United Press International in New York.

A NASA worker is dwarfed by the tail section of the space shuttle Atlantis in The Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in February, 2007. (Peter Cosgrove/Associated Press)

In 1962, he transferred to Cleveland where he covered the hometown parade for John Glenn after the astronaut became the first American to orbit the Earth. Cosgrove then transferred to New Jersey, where he was the wire service's chief telephoto engineer and a photographer.

Meticulous preparation

He worked for United Press International in Miami and Tampa before he was laid off from the wire service in 1991. 

He freelanced for the AP in Florida until he was hired as a staffer in the Orlando office in 1997. During his time there, he was meticulous in preparing for any assignment, whether it was covering the Orlando Magic or working on a feature story. He retired in 2005.

"He would always research," said Phil Sandlin, former AP photo editor for Florida, who also worked with Cosgrove at UPI. "He was so into knowing what he was going out to shoot and knowing what would make a good picture."

Cosgrove is survived by three children and three grandchildren.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this Associated Press story said John Glenn was the first man to orbit the Earth. In fact, Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, and Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit the planet nearly a year earlier.
    Feb 20, 2019 7:59 AM ET