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Harold Schmeck Jr., 89, New York Times science scribe

NEW YORK — Harold M. Schmeck Jr. — a science writer for The New York Times for more than 30 years who specialized in covering medical research, from the space age to the era of genetic medicine — died April 1 in Hyannis. He was 89.

He died after a heart attack, said his son, Peter.

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Mr. Schmeck, who worked at The Times from 1957 to 1989, filed exclusive articles on the health of some of the first American astronauts in the 1960s, as well as on the beginning of the effort to map the human genome in the 1980s. He wrote extensively about organ transplants, AIDS, and the federal agencies involved with public health.

Mr. Schmeck wrote with conversational clarity on complicated subjects.

“Two American astronauts are expected to come back to Earth tomorrow tired and badly in need of shaves and showers but carrying with them the answer to one of the most important questions facing the whole United States program of space exploration,” he wrote in a 1965 article about the Gemini 5 space mission, at the time the longest manned spaceflight. “The question is: What are the effects on a man of a spaceflight long enough to have taken him to the moon and back?”

The answer: probably nothing serious.

In 1987, he described advances in identifying genetic markers on human chromosomes: “Before the discovery of markers, chromosomes were like unnumbered avenues; the markers are like cross streets that enable a gene to be placed, say, between 15th Street and 16th Street along the avenue of the chromosome.”

Harold Marshall Schmeck Jr. was born in Tonawanda, N.Y., near Buffalo. After serving in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, he graduated with a degree in English from Cornell in 1948 and quickly found work as an editor with the university’s Alumni News. He then worked briefly for a small paper in Illinois before joining The Rochester Times-Union.

It was there that he began his science writing career. Just three years later, he won a Nieman fellowship to Harvard. He joined The Times in 1957.

Mr. Schmeck, who lived on Cape Cod in Chatham, leaves his son and a grandson. His wife of 59 years, the former Lois Gallo, died in 2010.

Mr. Schmeck was the author of ‘‘The Semi-Artificial Man — A Dawning Revolution in Medicine,’’ which was published in 1965 and explored the use of artificial organs in humans, and “Immunology: The Many-Edged Sword,” from 1974, which focused on immunology research.

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