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James Kukowski

Public Affairs, NASA

From writing fact sheets about TIROS weather satellites to entertaining a crowd of thousands while waiting for the Space Shuttle to land at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, James F. Kukowski always gave it his best.

It was probably his background as a radio broadcaster that helped him keep the crowd that had come out, along with President Reagan, cheering and waving small American flags, while waiting in the hot sun on the dry lake bed. It was one of the most colorful and best-attended landings in the history of the shuttle program.

Kukowski was born in Lacrosse, Wis., but grew up in Winona, Minn. He enlisted in the Navy after high school graduation and served as a fire control technician during the Korean War. When he returned to the states in 1952 he studied for two years at Michigan State College then moved to the University of Minnesota for his junior and senior years.

After graduating in 1956, he went to work in radio in Albion, Mich. He moved up to other stations in increasingly larger markets in Pontiac, Mich., Albany, N.Y., and finally Washington D.C. There, after two years on WWDC, he was hired as executive director of the National Association of Rocketry, so moving to NASA in 1967 seemed a next logical step.

Appointed a public information officer for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, he spent five years helping tell the stories about TIROS weather satellites, various scientific spacecraft like IMP, OSO, Nimbus, ERTS, and comsats. He spent a lot of time at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center manning the news rooms for the many launches and later telling the public what had been accomplished.

In 1972, he was asked to move to NASA Headquarters. There he successively moved from the newsroom to deputy chief of the audio-visual office, the office of manned space flight and then was appointed public affairs officer for the office and space science and applications. When he retired in 1990 he was deputy director for the office of internal communications.

Throughout his career he was assigned to broadcast duties. He provided radio feeds to stations around the world on every manned Apollo mission from the NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and acted as a commentator on numerous launches from Vandenberg Air Force Station, Calif. Some of his awards were for significant contributions to the development of NASA Select Television Service and as a producer-director for the service.

Kukowski also earned two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, five Sustained Superior Service Awards and numerous group achievement awards.