On a roll

Night launches from Cape Canaveral

Night launches from Cape Canaveral have become more popular in recent years. This photo of the STS 130 Endeavour, during the NASA shuttle era, was captured just seconds after liftoff. ROGER SCRUGGS PHOTOS

Photographer has captured six decades of Space Coast history

11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater and surfing legend Dick Catri

Roger Scruggs snaps a photo from more than four decades ago of 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater and surfing legend Dick Catri during a local television interview after a surf contest at the Cocoa Beach Pier.

Fascinated with cameras as a kid, longtime Space Coast photographer Roger Scruggs admits that he has always been “obsessed with creating images.” 

He grew up in Cocoa Beach and began taking photographs as a high school student in the early 1960s. “It was a good way to meet people and make them smile,” Scruggs says. “Surfing and high school sports were my favorite. But I enjoyed shooting family photos and other people-oriented events.” 

His hobby became a career that has produced a mountainous archive, documenting the early days of the Space Coast and beyond. It’s a body of work that has earned the respect and appreciation of veterans, admirals and astronauts around the globe. 

Scruggs joined the Seabees, the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, in 1964. His ambition was to be an engineer, so he began training as an engineering aide. That didn’t go as planned, he says. “After being told by my superiors that my lettering was not up to par, I was offered a position as the photojournalist for the mobile construction battalion.” 

The experience led to his decision to study photography and film at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, which he discovered in an advertisement in a photography magazine. 

He remembers, “I was hooked after I took my first launch photo, and learned it found its way to the office of the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force [at the] Pentagon.” 

Fast forward nearly 60 years: He has captured thousands of smiles, as well as hundreds of shuttle and rocket launches, veteran memorials, surfing contests, sporting events, holiday parades and more. His portfolio includes Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama, multiple astronauts, high-ranking military officers and dignitaries. Even Scruggs’ first photo was of an icon, 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, when he was just a youngster.


Veterans Memorial Center

For the past decade plus, Scruggs has worked as a photographer for the Veterans Memorial Center. The mannequin, located inside the museum, is dressed in a uniform Scruggs donated. It was mistakenly given to him a week before he was discharged from the U.S. Navy Seabees.

In the mid ’80s and ’90s, Scruggs was part of the camera crew for ABC and CBS network affiliates, WFTV-9 Orlando and WDBO-6 and WMOD Independent, and later was employed by Johnson Controls Aerospace Imaging, a sub-contractor for NASA, where he filmed multiple space launches and other key events of the era.

“It was a huge opportunity to be able to take part in documenting the many stages of space operations, as well as other historic events here, including meeting astronauts and other NASA dignitaries,” Scruggs recalls. 

Among one of his fondest memories as a videographer was a trip aboard the Goodyear blimp. “I actually got to maneuver the controls for five minutes,” he says. 

“It was very exciting.” 

Along with all the glamour and adventure, there have been times his photo duties presented dangerous challenges. While working in a darkroom during his Seabee days, Scruggs was nearly electrocuted when a film dryer shorted out, causing sparks to fly everywhere. Another assignment that became more electrifying than anticipated was atop the remains of a church steeple that had blown off during a hurricane. While he was in that already precarious position, “Someone must have turned on the power, and sparks from the conduit became a threat,” he says. “The good news: My photo, a panoramic view of city, ended up being printed on the phone book cover.

“Throughout the years, I have learned that details really do matter — as does safety.” 

He has also learned that continued education is imperative. “The transition to digital has been a mixed blessing,” he says. “While it has improved the quality and clarity of my images and videos 1000%, I now have to do all the work that the photo labs used to do. I joke that every day of a still shoot creates a week of post-production; and videos, a month.”

The Women of the Waves [WOW] surf weekend held in Cocoa Beach

The Women of the Waves [WOW] surf weekend held in Cocoa Beach each year with all female surfers is one of Scruggs’ favorite events to photograph.


A black and white photo of Roger Scruggs

A black and white photo of Roger Scruggs with his 16mm camera from the ‘70s brings back memories. ‘I could never have imagined the future of videography back then,’ Scruggs says.

Scruggs, now in his 70s, continues to do what he loves, serving as the staff photographer for the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center, documenting images and videos of important events at the museum and grounds of the 82-acre park on Merritt Island. He says it is his way of honoring veterans and heroes.

Donn Weaver, chairman of the Brevard Veterans Council and vice president of the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center, is just one member of the Space Coast military families who appreciate Scruggs’ humble and tireless efforts. “Roger definitely works from the heart to capture the essence of each and every one of the veterans, their families, and more,” Weaver says. “His energy and efforts are outstanding.” 

Other nonprofits that continue to benefit from his talents are Women of the Waves, Florida Surf Museum and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles. 

Melody De Carlo, founder of Florida Women of the Waves, an all-female surfing and social group in Cocoa Beach, praises Scruggs for his contributions to their Facebook platform and marketing. “Roger has always been such a great supporter,” she says. “All of us women look forward to having him take our group photos. He always has us laughing with his antics on the ladder. We have adopted him as one of the few males that are invited to our all-female events. Like so many events he covers, our event wouldn’t be the same without him.”

Scruggs’ father, who worked on the Polaris Missiles in the ’50s and ’60s, often told him to give up his photography. “I remember him telling me to get a real job, before I began working as a cameraman for television news stations,” Scruggs says. “The truth is, I have always been extremely grateful and appreciated that my parents were my biggest supporters.

“I now just enjoy sharing my photos and helping others document their own history.”

Astronauts getting ready to board the shuttle.

Merritt Island resident and astronaut, Kay Hire, and her fellow crew members wave to the media and onlookers before boarding their 2010 Endeavour mission.

See the original article in print publication

Sue DeWerff Panzarino
Surfer & Shark Attack Survivor | surfersuzy7@ymail.com

Sue is an avid surfer, shark attack survivor and storyteller who loves to write about the wonderful people and great organizations on the Space Coast.