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The NASA insignia. A blue circle with the word NASA in white across the blue circle. There is also a red vector across the blue circle.

Gatha Cottee

Photographer, RCA

Born in Willis Wharf, Va., Gatha “Cott” Cottee moved to the Cape Canaveral area in 1954 as a photographer with RCA. One of his first jobs involved setting up a photographic laboratory for the fledgling missile programs.

In 1958 he entered civil service with the Air Force but migrated to NASA soon afterwards. He spent most of the next 30 years overseeing the audio visual needs of the world’s news media as a member of the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Public Affairs office.

In this capacity he made major contributions to the development of photographic and television coverage of the launch of all of the human space flight missions, as well as, the expendable launches until he retired in 1988 as well as, the expendable launches. His services proved valuable not only at Kennedy but also for coverage of launches at Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force Bases in California where he worked on setting up the system to cover the space shuttle orbiter drop tests and landings when the first shuttles returned from space.

Cottee was particularly active as a member and officer of the American Federation of Government Employees. He served as president of AFGE for several years and was known for his tenacious but fair defense of union members.

Prior to moving to Florida he pursued his photographic career as a contractor for the Naval Aviation Test Station at Chincoteague, Va., from 1946 to 1949 when he entered the Army. He was assigned to a photographic unit in Germany where he served until his discharge in 1952.

Beginning back in Virginia he was one of the real characters of the space program. His first boss recalled that he was almost fired during his first year because the military commander of Chincoteague spotted him driving a jeep with a propeller-topped beanie cap and no shirt. His boss explained to the commander that while Cott was a maverick he was the glue that held his organization together. When long laborious hours frayed tempers Cott would do something to make everyone laugh and bring people together again.

His personality never changed and when he joined NASA his patient help to the diverse group of people covering the space program won him many friends including Walter Cronkite and Norman Rockwell. As a matter of fact Cott can be seen in one of Rockwell’s painting at the Smithsonian.