CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (AP) — Jack King, a NASA public affairs official who became the voice of the Apollo moon shots, died Thursday. He was 84.
King counted down the historic launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. He also did the countdown for hundreds of the early rocket launches, including the two-man Gemini missions and many other Apollo missions.
King died at a hospice facility, not far from Kennedy Space Center, said Hugh Harris, retired director of public affairs at Kennedy. King had been diagnosed early this year with heart failure.
In 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, King said that he still enjoyed hearing recordings of himself from that big launch day.
“I wish I had a penny for every time it was used,” he told The Associated Press.
For just over a year, from 1958 to 1959, King ran the new AP office in Cape Canaveral. He first joined the news agency in 1951 in Boston, his hometown, and returned after graduating from Boston College and serving two years in the Army.
King moved over to NASA and went on to head its public information office at Cape Canaveral during the Mercury program, the job he still held when astronauts first flew to the moon.
“Twelve, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence start. Six, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero, all engine running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11.”
King later said he was so excited, he said “engine” instead of “engines.” He had no script and stuck to the bare facts, he said in 2009.
Former space shuttle commander Robert Cabana, now director of Kennedy Space Center, called King a “great” communicator and said he will be missed.
“All of us watching on television will never forget his calm, reassuring demeanor,” Cabana said in a statement. “Jack was a true professional and helped us understand in common English the complexities of space flight.”
King left for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston after Apollo 11 and was a member of the three-man team that negotiated an information plan for the joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975. It resulted in the first live TV coverage of a Soviet rocket launch, Harris said.
He went to Washington in 1975 to direct public relations for the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration. He left government in 1977 to work for Armand Hammer and Occidental International Corp. and others, before trying out retirement in 1996. He moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, near the space center, and became a spokesman for United Space Alliance, a Lockheed Martin and Boeing venture to prepare the space shuttles for flight. He retired in 2010.
“He was a pioneer in the public relations business for NASA,” Harris said, “And he worked out many of the protocols for working with the news media here at the launch site.”
He loved space, right up to the end.
On May 30, Harris said he took King and King’s daughter to the space center for the annual induction ceremony for the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. But upon arriving, King collapsed and was taken to the hospital.
“He lived and breathed the space program; he loved it from the beginning,” said his daughter, Beth King Post of Cocoa Beach.
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