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Riley bio

John E. Riley

Jack Riley was born in 1925 in Trenton, Missouri. After high school, he joined the Navy, serving during World War II in the Pacific theater. After the war he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and worked at several newspapers before taking a job at General Dynamics Astronautics.


He joined NASA in 1963 and worked for three decades in their Public Affairs Office, eventually becoming branch chief. Riley spent many years leading the news division, and Paul Haney credits him with initiating the practice of astronaut media interviews. Among many other missions, Riley provided commentary for the Apollo 11 launch and historic Moon Walk four days later.


Riley played a key role in the development of Gene Kranz’ book Failure Is Not An Option, helping Kranz shape the story, doing the preliminary edits, and reviewing every manuscript draft. It started with a phone call from Kranz out of the blue. “I’d just been goofing off for two or three years, decided I might as well try it, and I enjoyed working with him on it very much,” said Riley.


Jack Riley died of cancer in Houston on April 17, 2003 at the age of 78.


(sources: Houston Chronicle, April 20, 2003; LA Times, April 28, 2003; JSC Oral History; Failure Is Not An Option Acknowledgments)

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