Charles H. King Jr., NASA engineer who helped design rocket engines, dies at 90

By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 12:03 AM

Charles H. King Jr., 90, a retired NASA engineer who helped develop the rocket engines that propelled the first astronauts to the moon and sent satellites to the planets beyond, died of respiratory failure Oct. 15 at Georgetown University Hospital.

Mr. King started his engineering career in the early 1950s with Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, Conn., where he later worked on one of the firm's most advanced projects: a liquid hydrogen-fueled rocket engine called the RL10.

The RL10, which is still in use today, has sent space vehicles on interplanetary missions to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

In the early 1960s, Mr. King joined NASA, where he used his expertise on liquid-fueled engines to develop the boosters for the Saturn rockets.

Later, Mr. King was a leading engineer on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a 1975 collaboration between NASA and the Soviet space program. During this period, Mr. King became so proficient in the Russian language that he was able to discuss the literary works of 19th-century writer Alexander Pushkin with Russian engineers and cosmonauts.

Charles Henry King Jr. was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and was a 1941 honors graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After Army service during World War II, when he assisted in the design of flamethrowers, Mr. King received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1947 from the California Institute of Technology .

An Army Reserve officer, Mr. King retired from his military duties in 1965 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He organized MIT alumni activities in Washington for many years.

His wife of 62 years, Nancy Arnold King, died in 2008.

Survivors include three sons, Robert King of Lexington, Mass., Charles R. King of Washington and Andrew King of Cambridge, Mass.; a sister, Louise Steiner of Chevy Chase; and five grandchildren.

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