It was a long road from slinging newspapers to serving as news chief at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. But along the way, Karl Kristofferson has been involved in a variety of life's promises, challenges and rewards…from war and family to writing about moon landings, space shuttles and exploration of the heavens.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Fla., he started his journalism career at age 11 by delivering and collecting a 400-customer newspaper bicycle route. After graduating from high school, he worked as a mail and billing clerk for the General Electric Supply Corp.
Then came to Korean War and enlistment in the U.S. Air Force. As central fire control gunner aboard B-29 super fortresses, he survived 28 combat missions over North Korea, including several that "by accident" strayed across the Yalu River into Manchuria to hit Chinese airfields and troop concentrations. During these "navigational errors," he and his gunnery crew brought down a number of attacking fighters including several Russian built Mig-15 jets.
After the war, while stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, he met a young redhead named Barbara Dalton. Shortly after discharge from the Air Force, they married and settled in Jacksonville where he worked as a motion picture booker for Paramount, Warner Bros., and United Artists, at the same time attending night classes at what is now Jacksonville University.
Booking films was tedious and competitive but it did have its rewards: Christmas parties with the likes of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, lunch with James Cagney and face-to-face encounters with many of the film stars of that era.
But the explosive growth of commercial TV in the late 1950s emptied theater seats across the country and studio profits plummeted. Seeking greener pastures, Kristofferson enrolled full-time at the University of Florida in Gainesville to complete his education. There, he and his wife both worked extra jobs to supplement the GI bill and help support their two-year-old daughter, the first of their three children.
Starting out as geology major and later switching to journalism, Kristoferrson graduated at the top of his journalism class. This led to North Palm Beach and a job as an engineering writer with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. From there, he and his family migrated to Brevard County and the nation's space program.
During his Kennedy tour, which began in 1963, he worked with RCA, Ling-Tempco-Vought and Boeing before joining the civil service team as public affairs officer for the Greensboro, N.C., office of the Internal Revenue Service. A year later, he accepted a job as a public information officer at Kennedy.
Pioneer 10's epic 1972 flyby of Jupiter and its unending journey to the stars resulted in a major article for Reader's Digest. Thus began an association that would extend for two decades and over 20 articles about space exploration. This included travel and coverage of the space activities of the European Space Agency.
His Digest "fame" eventually caught the attention of NASA Headquarters. Soon he was given special writing assignments, as well as speeches for the NASA administrator and deputy administrator. At their request he also wrote several speeches on aerospace topics for then President Gerald Ford.
In the late 70s, he was named deputy chief of the Kennedy public affairs education office where he prepared special publications and helped spread the word about space exploration to teachers, school administrators and students.
In 1988, he was named news chief, responsible for media activities at Kennedy, a position that also included managing editor of the official newspaper, The Spaceport News. In 1992, he received the astronaut's personal achievement award – the prestigious Silver Snoopy.
Kristofferson retired from NASA in January 1993, but still keeps up with space activities as a staff writer for Space Launch News.
Outside of family matters, Kristofferson considers his switch from geology to journalism with an emphasis on engineering and science as the turning point in his life. It laid the foundation for a journey into one of history's most exciting eras – the opening of the space frontier.