Launch commentator for Apollo 11 moon shot, Jack King, dies

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45th Anniversary Of Apollo 11 Moon Landing

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (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.

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Apollo 11 Moon Landing
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Launch commentator for Apollo 11 moon shot, Jack King, dies
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: US Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, walking on the Moon July 20 1969. Taken during the first Lunar landing of the Apollo 11 space mission by NASA. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
In this July 20, 1969 photo provided by NASA shows Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from Aldrin's panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he has died at age 82. A statement from the family says he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. It doesn't say where he died. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (AP Photo/NASA, Buzz Aldrin)
FILE - In this July 20, 1969 file photo, Astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. (AP Photo/Neil Armstrong, NASA, file)
Photograph of Astronaut Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 space mission. Dated 1969. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY: The crew of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, the astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin are in quarantine after their return from the moon in the United States in Luly 1969. (Photo by Frederic CASTEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 16th July 1969 and Neil Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. The third member of the crew, Command Module pilot Michael Collins, remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. Aldrin was the Lunar Module pilot on the mission. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
376713 11: (FILE PHOTO) A view of the Earth appears over the Lunar horizon as the Apollo 11 Command Module comes into view of the Moon before Astronatus Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin Jr. leave in the Lunar Module, Eagle, to become the first men to walk on the Moon's surface. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission is celebrated July 20, 1999. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)
UNITED STATES - MAY 30: Aldrin is shown beside the foot of the Lunar Module. Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong - Commander, Michael Collins - Command Module pilot and Edwin Aldrin - Lunar Module pilot, was the first manned lunar landing mission. It was launched on 16th July 1969 and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the moon on 20th July 1969. Collins remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. The astronauts returned to Earth on 24th July 1969. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin carries scientific experiments to a deployment site south of the lunar module Eagle. One experiment involved the inner composition of the moon, and another tried to determine the exact distance from Earth. Photo was taken by Neil Armstrong of the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. (AP Photo/NASA/Neil Armstrong)
IN SPACE - JULY 11: The American Flag Is Planted On The Lunar Surface By The Men Of Apollo 11 In July 1969. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 08: Aldrin is shown deploying the Passive Seismic Experiments Package (PSEP) on the lunar surface. The PSEP was one of the experiments that were carried out during the lunar landing missions. Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 16th July 1969 with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin �Buzz� Aldrin and Michael Collins on board, and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. Collins, the Command Module pilot, remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
FILE: In this July 20, 1969 file photo, a footprint left by one of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission shows in the soft, powder surface of the moon. Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Air Force Col. Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. became the first men to walk on the moon after blastoff from Cape Kennedy, Fla., on July 16, 1969. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82. A statement from the family says he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. It doesn't say where he died. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (AP Photo/NASA)
UNITED STATES - MAY 17: Aldrin became the second man to walk on the Moon after he stepped off this ladder on 20th July 1969. The picture was taken by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon. The third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins, remained in lunar orbit in the Apollo Command and Service Module while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
The Apollo Lunar Module known as the Eagle descends onto the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, 20th July 1969. This is a composite image comprised of two separate shots. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A television screen grab shows the members of mission control waving flags and celebrating the splashdown and return of the crew of the Apollo 11, Texas, July 1969. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
FILE - In this July 21, 1969 file photo provided by NASA, mission control personnel watch the moon walk by Apollo 11 astronauts, in Houston. (AP Photo/NASA, file)
An estimated 10,000 persons gather to watch giant television screens in New York's Central Park and cheer as astronaut Neil Armstrong takes man's first step on the moon on July 20, 1969. The Apollo 11 lunar mission was launched July 16. (AP Photo)
Apollo 11 Splashdown - Hushed crowd watches on mobile TV setup at 53d St. and Park Ave., as moon men return. (Photo By: Jack Smith/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 17: The Apollo 11 rocket is on its mobile launch platform just after roll out from the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its way to Launch Complex 39A. Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 16th July 1969 with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin �Buzz� Aldrin and Michael Collins on board, and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. Collins, the Command Module pilot, remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 15: The Apollo 11 launch vehicle is on its mobile launch platform just after roll out from the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its way to Launch Complex 39A. Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 16th July 1969 with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin �Buzz� Aldrin and Michael Collins on board, and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. Collins, the Command Module pilot, remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. The massive Saturn V rocket, over 100 metres tall, was the largest rocket ever built and was used on all the Apollo missions to the Moon. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 08: Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin �Buzz� Aldrin standing by a boiler plate Apollo capsule on the deck of the NASA vessel Retriever during water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 16th July 1969 and Neil Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. Command Module pilot Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. The astronauts returned to Earth on 24th July 1969. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JULY 24: US Navy pararescueman Lt. Clancey Hatleberg disinfects Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. after getting into the life raft during recovery operations on July 24, 1969 at the completion of their successful lunar landing mission. (Photo by 8383/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Astronaut Michael Collins wears the space helmet for the Apollo 11 moon mission, on July 20, 1969. He'€™ll be in the command module when fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin Jr. descend on the lunar surface in the lunar module to take a walk on the moon early Monday. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this 1969 photo provided by NASA the crew of the Apollo 11 mission is seen. From left are Neil Armstrong, Mission Commander, Michael Collins, Lt. Col. USAF, and Edwin Eugene Aldrin, also known as Buzz Aldrin, USAF Lunar Module pilot. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82. A statement from the family says he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. It doesn't say where he died. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (AP Photo/NASA, File)
UNITED STATES - MAY 14: This picture was taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts on their journey to the moon. Spain, North Africa and the Middle East can clearly be seen. Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin �Buzz� Aldrin and Michael Collins, was the first manned lunar landing mission. It was launched on 16th July 1969 and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the moon on 21st July 1969. Collins remained in lunar orbit. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 29: This view of the Earth appearing above the lunar horizon was taken by astronauts during the Apollo 11 mission. Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 16th July 1969 with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin �Buzz� Aldrin and Michael Collins on board, and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. Collins, the Command Module pilot, remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on 24th July 1969. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
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"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.

King left for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston following 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.

King is also survived by a son, Harold "Chip" King of Bluffton, South Carolina, and five grandchildren.

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Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/history/chroniclers/king.html​

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