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Longtime NASA Reporter William M. Hines, 88, Dies

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page C09

William M. Hines, 88, a former Washington Star and Chicago Sun-Times reporter who was considered the godfather of NASA space reporting, died Feb. 28 of complications from treatment for pneumonia at Frederick Memorial Hospital. He lived in Washington before moving to Lovettsville in 1987.

Mr. Hines was born in San Jose and grew up in San Francisco, where his father was the publisher of the old San Francisco Bulletin. He attended Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., for about three years. "But," his wife recalled, "when he was offered a job at the Chattanooga Times, he took it."


William M. Hines pushed NASA to more closely investigate the fatal Apollo spacecraft accident in 1967.

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During World War II, he served as an Army first lieutenant in the European theater. He worked briefly in the Pentagon's information office before joining the Washington Star as a reporter and later becoming Sunday editor.

Mr. Hines, who had a keen interest in science, persuaded his boss to allow him to report on the country's nascent space program shortly after the Russian spaceship Sputnik went up in 1957. "He told him he would be missing the boat if he don't get on it right away," said his wife, Judith Randall Hines.

When an Apollo spacecraft caught fire on Jan. 27, 1967, killing three astronauts, Mr. Hines wrote an article in the Nation magazine criticizing NASA's attempts to maintain its image as an agency that gave, as one official said, "meticulous attention to the smallest detail." He prodded the agency and a congressional committee to look deeper for the root cause of the fire that killed Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee on Pad 34 at Kennedy Space Center.

"In these flack-driven times it is perhaps not surprising that the taxpaying public should be hoodwinked, falsely propagandized, deliberately misled, and on occasion even lied to by its servants," he wrote in 1967. "It is deplorable, however, and dangerous in the bargain that NASA has deluded itself into believing the reality of its own Image."

Mr. Hines, a probing, impatient, sometimes abrasive reporter, was legendary among journalists for his thorough reporting and quick writing speed. In news conferences, where he would sit like a coiled cobra waiting to strike, he would sometimes leave NASA spokesmen speechless with his incisive questioning, colleagues said.

After leaving the Star in 1968, Mr. Hines worked at the Chicago Daily News and later became Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times. He retired from the Sun-Times in 1989 and continued to do freelance writing about space, physics, molecular biology and other topics. He frequently was on "Meet the Press" and other television news shows. Mr. Hines was proud to learn years ago that he was on President Richard M. Nixon's "enemies list."

In later years, he had a passionate interest in the proper use of the English language and, as his wife put it, "all things cats." Mouse Trap Farm became the name of his 18th-century log cabin in Lovettsville. He was interested in preservation and was involved in the Old House Group in Lovettsville. He edited the group's newsletter, as well as one for Ralph Nader's Health Research Group.

He was an excellent cook who especially enjoyed preparing Indian food and entertaining.

He had a brief first marriage that ended in divorce. His marriages to Ruth Hines and Beryl Hines also ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 22 years, who lives in Lovettsville; two children from his second marriage, Sandra Pierotti and William Hines, both of Atlanta; and two grandsons.


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