Thursday, July 07, 2011

Jack King, voice of Apollo, still a space fan


CAPE CANAVERAL – Cocoa Beach’s Jack King can’t recall the number of liftoffs he called as a launch commentator through the early and teen-age years of America’s space program.

And while the one he will be most remembered for – the liftoff of Apollo 11 that delivered the first men – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – to the moon, the one that was the most emotional was one he just watched, the mission of Alan Shepard as the first American in space.

King, now 80 and a volunteer public affairs officer for NASA, will be watching again today as Atlantis hopefully beats the weather and lifts off on the final mission in the space shuttle program.

He will find a spot on the grass for the finale.

“I have to have the sensation . . . at liftoff I’ve got to be standing on grass or on ground,” he said Thursday. “I want to feel that sound go right through me. It’s a unique sensation that you never get used to.”

King retired in October from United Space Alliance where he performed communications, public relations and staff duties, capping a career that began with the first launch he called in 1960. He went on to call both unmanned and manned missions, beginning with Gemini IV and ending with Apollo 15 on July 26, 1971.

Being in the program for more than 50 years has given him strong opinions on America’s space program.

“Here we are completing the shuttle program, too early in my estimation and in the estimation of a number of other people,” he said.

“We really don’t have anything immediate to look forward to. That is a major concern. Coming out of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs where I guess a lot of my loyalty lies, I’m with Chris Kraft and with those astronauts who want to go out and explore.

“With all due respect to the shuttle it was a decision we had to make back 30 years ago because it was the only alternative when the Apollo program was shut down.”

And now it’s the shuttle’s turn to fly into history.

“Despite the great job that the shuttle has done over the last 30 years in establishing this marvelous space station, we still sentenced ourselves to 30 years of hard labor in low Earth orbit,” he said.

“As a result we’ve lost 30 years of extending the exploration. I don’t know how many more years we’re going to have before we really get something going again.”

But between now and then, whenever then happens, King can fondly look back at the hundreds of launches that laid the foundation for what will take place today.

His emotions, unlike those of others who are saving their deep feelings for the true end of Atlantis’ mission – wheel stop at landing – will be keener today.

“Launch, it’s always been launch, it’s always been launch for me,” he said.

“Landing of course is vital and critical. But for me it’s always been launch.”

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