Suggested Searches

Phil Sandlin

Photographer, United Press International and The Associated Press

Phil Sandlin started working as a photographer while in the 101st Airborne. His first newspaper job was with The Star in Wilmington, North Carolina, his hometown. He then went to the St. Petersburg Evening Independent.

Sandlin joined United Press International in 1961, covering NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs and the civil rights movement, including the Selma March. He jumped to The Associated Press in 1974, continuing his space coverage with the shuttle program.

As the AP’s photo editor in Miami, Sandlin headed up the wire service’s photo team at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 28, 1986, when Challenger launched on its doomed, all-too-short-lived flight. Before liftoff that morning, he gave his camera crew the same wise advice he always offered during a shuttle countdown: “These launches have become routine, but be prepared for the unexpected.”

Long a tinkerer, Sandlin worked with photographers on improving the use of remote systems for the coverage of space launches.  Longtime Nikon photographer Scott Andrews so admired Phil that he named his only child after him.

Sandlin retired from the AP in 2001.

In 2016, Sandlin won the National Press Photographers Association’s prestigious Joseph Costa Award for his 50 years of documenting news in Florida and throughout the South, including the civil rights movement, the space program, presidential elections and hurricanes. The award is given for “outstanding initiative, leadership and service in advancing the goals of NPPA” in the tradition of the association’s founder, Joseph Costa.

In accepting his Chroniclers award on May 5, 2017, Sandlin noted, “It’s been a thrill to have covered this and seen what it’s developed into now with this new thing they’ve got jumping off the pad.” He was referring to the SpaceX Falcon rockets launching from the same pad once used by NASA’s Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles.

“But thank you again,” he told NASA, “and good luck.”