Jack King: Nasa official who performed hundreds of countdowns and became celebrated as 'the Voice of Apollo 11'

He headed Nasa's public information office at Cape Canaveral during the Mercury programme, the job he held when astronauts first flew to the moon

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The Independent Online

Jack King was a Nasa public affairs official who became the voice of the Apollo moon shots. King counted down the historic launch of Apollo 11 on 16 July 1969, and also performed the countdown for hundreds of the early rocket launches, including the two-man Gemini missions and many other Apollo missions. In 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, King said he still enjoyed hearing recordings of himself from launch day. "I wish I had a penny for every time it was used," he said.

From 1958 to 1959, King ran the new AP office in Cape Canaveral. He had first joined the news agency in 1951 in Boston, his home town, and returned after graduating from Boston College and serving two years in the Army.

He moved over to Nasa and went on to lead its public information office at Cape Canaveral during the Mercury programme, the job he still held when astronauts first flew to the moon. He struggled at first to get the astronauts to speak to reporters. "The astronauts would ask me 'Why should I help them? All they do is blast us!' They just didn't see the need of being interviewed."

The Apollo 11 countdown took on immense historical significance: "Twelve, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence start. Six, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero, all engine running. Lift-off! We have a lift-off, 32 minutes past the hour. Lift-off 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 recalled, although "I did have some notes scribbled down, in case there was a situation where the astronauts had to abort... I always kept them at my right-hand side in case I needed them."

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 US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975. It resulted in the first live TV coverage of a Soviet rocket launch.

He went to Washington in 1975 to direct public relations for the US Energy Research and Development Administration then left government in 1977 to work for Armand Hammer and Occidental International Corp among other companies, before retiring in 1996. But retirement didn't suit him, and he moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida and became a spokesman for United Space Alliance, a Lockheed Martin and Boeing venture to prepare space shuttles for flight. He finally retired in 2010.

On 30 May King went with his 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 hospital, where he died. "He lived and breathed the space programme, he loved it from the beginning," said his daughter, Beth King Post.

John King, Nasa spokesman and corporate executive: born Boston April 1931; married Evelyn (died 2005; one daughter, two sons); died 11 June 2015.

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