Joseph M. "Joe" Jones, born May 28, 1931, in Heflin, Ala., worked all of his professional life in the news and government public affairs area.
A former Montgomery, Ala., newspaper reporter and editor, he spent nearly 30 years in Army and NASA positions in Huntsville, Ala. For the eight years before retirement he was director of the public affairs office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Before that he was chief of the news branch of that office for 15 years and still earlier an employee of the public information office of U.S. Army elements at Huntsville which became a part of NASA. He was the No. 3 employee of NASA in Alabama, and the first employee of Marshall's public affairs office.
Jones wrote the press kit for the first American earth satellite, Explorer I, which was launched by his Army organization Jan. 31, 1958, a six-page Department of Defense news release. He also helped write the Apollo 11 lunar landing press kit, a 250-page volume that also had several hundreds of pages of backup documents. That growth in size illustrates the increase in information made available to the public in the early years of space exploration.
His involvement in the Explorer I program began in December 1957 when he went to the State University of Iowa to interview James van Allen, designer of the satellites instrumentation, and for whom the Van Allen radiation belts were named. He was not, however, present for the launch. Instead he waited at the Army Pictorial Center, Long Island City, N.Y., to receive launch pictures, write captions and release them to the press. There was no easy means of developing and distributing pictures at Cape Canaveral at the time since there was not a resident core of national press there. The undeveloped film was flown to New York by a U.S. Air Force jet.
Jones' trips to Cape Canaveral began later in 1958 and continued through launchings of rockets built on the Redstone and Jupiter ballistic missiles that were developed by the Wehner von Braun group at Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal. These launches occurred before and immediately after NASA were formed.
Through the years he visited the cape and NASA's Kennedy Space Center scores of times to help with the press for launches. He was present for the launching of each of the 32 Saturn rockets, including Apollo 11 sending the first men to the moon, an event that attracted 3,400 newsmen to the launch site.
He and his wife have three sons, all in medical professions. He has been active in church life, serving in various local and state capacities in Baptist organizations and editing church publications. He also served for a dozen years as chairman of his county's Department of Human Resources Board and president of the state association of boards. Independent of his government work, he operated a broadleaf evergreen nursery outside of Huntsville.