Howard Benedict, who chronicled the triumphs and tragedies of America's journey into space in three decades as the award-winning aerospace writer for the Associated Press, has died. He was 77.
In his 37-year career with the AP, Benedict covered more than 2,000 missile and rocket launches, including 65 human flights from Alan Shepard's historic "Light this candle!" ride in 1961 to the 34th shuttle mission in 1990.
Benedict, who turned 77 last Saturday, died at his home in nearby Cocoa of natural causes. His body was found in bed Monday.
Benedict had been ill in recent years, but that did not prevent him from continuing to work for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which he headed for more than a decade, and writing the chapter on aviation and space exploration for an upcoming book on the history of the AP.
Benedict, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, joined the AP in 1953 in Salt Lake City and became head of the news cooperative's office in Cape Canaveral in 1959. Two years later, the same year Shepard became the first American in space, Benedict became the first AP reporter to be given the title "aerospace writer."
With the lengthy hiatus between the Apollo and shuttle programs, Benedict transferred to Washington in 1974 and was White House correspondent for two years during Gerald R. Ford's presidency. He also worked as an aviation and transportation writer.
With space shuttle flights picking up, Benedict returned to Cape Canaveral in 1984 and reopened the AP's bureau at Kennedy Space Center.
Benedict retired from the AP in 1990 to become executive director of the Mercury 7 Foundation, now the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Under his leadership, more than $2 million in college scholarships was awarded to engineering and science students.
He retired from the foundation in 1994 but continued to serve on its board of directors and committees. In fact, he helped organize an induction ceremony planned for this weekend of three more shuttle fliers into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Before joining the AP, Benedict wrote for the military newspaper Pacific Stars & Stripes in both Tokyo and Seoul in 1951, following his recall to active Army duty for the Korean War. He returned from Asia, completed his journalism education at Northwestern University in December 1952 and began working for the AP six weeks later.