Frederick I. Ordway III

From The Space Library

Revision as of 20:42, 8 February 2016 by RobertG (Talk | contribs)
(diff) ←Older revision | Current revision (diff) | Newer revision→ (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
Frederick I Ordway III
Image:Fred ordway.jpg
Frederick Ordway circa 2012
Birth Name Frederick Ira Ordway III
Birth Date April 4 1927
Date of Death July 1 2014
Place of Death Huntsville AL
Occupation Engineer, Author
Nationality United States of America
Notable Works The Rocket Team, 2001: A Space Odyssey



Frederick Ira Ordway, III was born in New York, New York on 4 April 1927 to Frederick Ira Ordway, Jr., who was in the financial industry, and Frances Antoinette Wright. Ordway was descended from a New England family that arrived in Maine during the mid 17th century. The Ordway family has had a long legacy of public service. His father volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force at the outbreak of World War I and later joined legendary aviator Eddie Rickenbacker in the Lafayette Escadrille in dogfights over France. His grandfather fought at San Juan Hill with Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War. John Ordway, Ordway's ancestor was Lewis and Clark's sergeant on their expedition of 1804-1806.

Mr. Ordway's interest in space was sparked as a pre-teen when he discovered a housekeeper's copy of the science-fiction magazine 'Amazing Stories'. In 1939, he joined the American Rocket Society, the predecessor of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics,and space exploration became his consuming passion for the next 75 years.

In 1948, while vacationing in Havana, he met his college roommate's sister, Colombian-born Maria Victoria Arenas. They married in 1950 and were inseparable until her death in 2012. The couple maintained an active lifestyle, traveling between their homes in Huntsville and Arlington, Virginia, playing tennis and snow skiing.


Ordway received his education in the geoscientific field at Harvard University (S.B., with studies in the geosciences, chemistry, astronomy and mathematics) where he graduated in 1949 and at the Universite de Paris Sorbonne where he received certificates for work with the Laboratoire de Physique de l'atmosphere and the Laboratoire de Geologie Dynamique during two years. He took specialized courses at other European universities and held diplomas from the U.S. Air University and had studied administration and related subjects at the Alexander Hamilton Business Institute and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Early Career

Mr. Ordway's industrial career began with associations with the Gulf Oil Company (Mene Grande Oil Company subsidiary) and the United States Steel Corporation (Orinoco Mining Company subsidiary). His first job in the nascent space industry was with Reaction Motors, Inc. (RMI) of New Jersey, a pioneer American company that built rocket engines where he was concerned with liquid propellant rocket engine developments for airplane, sounding rocket and missile use. He next worked with the Guided Missiles Division of the Republic Aviation Corporation of Farmingdale, NY where his responsibilities included instrumentation and advanced vehicle design.

Space Program

In July 1955, Mr. Ordway left Republic in order to devote his full efforts to Astronautics Associates, a company that he and a colleague formed during the previous year. That company evolved into the General Astronautics Corporation of Huntsville, Alabama and later became the General Astronautics Research Corporation of Washington, D.C. As President of General Astronautics, Ordway's staff conducted broad rocket and astronautical surveys throughout the industry.

On leave from General Astronautics, Mr. Ordway became assistant to the Director of the newly formed Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)/National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Projects Office at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Subsequently, he was named Chief, Space Systems Information Branch at Redstone Arsenal and he remained in that position when it transferred to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center as part of NASA. Mr. Ordway worked directly with Wernher von Braun and the two had remained very close friends until von Braun's death in 1977.

2001 A Space Odyssey

Mr. Ordway, began a 50 year long collaboration with Sir Arthur C. Clarke after their initial meeting in 1950 at the first International Astronautical Congress in Paris. Ordway was the sole American delegate at this now historic conference.

In 1965, during a brief Manhattan visit, Mr. Ordway telephoned his friend Arthur C. Clarke at his apartment in the Chelsea Hotel to learn if he might be available to join him for a meal. Shortly after hanging up the phone with Clarke, Ordway received an unexpected call from film director Stanley Kubrick who requested that he join him as his guest for dinner. At dinner, they discussed Ordway's recent book Intelligence in the Universe whose main themes happened to coincide with a film project that Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke had been developing. Before the evening ended, Kubrick was convinced that Mr. Ordway should become a member of the team for the film project.

When Ordway returned back to Huntsville and told Wernher von Braun, his boss,about his meeting with Stanley Kubrick, von Braun enthusiastically granted Ordway an indefinite leave of absence telling him "You will do more for space exploration making this film than you could here" That film was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mr. Ordway moved to England with his family and his extensive contributions to the making of the motion picture led to the studios at Borehamwood London being referred to as "NASA-East". Kubrick made a wise choice in selecting Fred Ordway as Chief Technical Consultant and Scientific Advisor.

2001: A Space Odyssey has been consistently ranked as one of the top 5 films of all time. Ordway is among the last surviving members from the film's creative department. Director Kubrick died in 1999, and Sir Arthur in 2008.

Public Speaking and Space Advocacy

Until his death, Ordway had been a tireless advocate for space exploration, giving speeches on all 7 continents, Antarctica included. He remained a popular and familiar figure on the space lecture circuit until a few weeks ago.

He had more than 350 articles published and wrote 30 books. Many historians consider his book The Rocket Team to be the definitive account of the story of the German rocket pioneers who were brought to the United States in 1945 and 1946 under Operation Paperclip. Mr. Ordway conducted interviews with almost all of the 132 members of the group. (Many of his interviews can be heard here.)

At the 2003 Centennial of Flight ceremony in Paris marking the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's flight, Ordway accepted prizes on behalf of both Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Wernher von Braun. Von Braun finished second in the balloting behind the winning Wright Brothers.


Mr. Ordway was a long time member of the Explorer's Club in New York and the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. as well as many technical societies.


Frederick I. Ordway, III, pioneer space visionary and internationally known space historian best known as the Chief Technical Consultant and Scientific Advisor of the landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey, died peacefully in July 2014 at his home in Huntsville, Alabama. He was 87.


Rocket Team (The) - by Frederick I. Ordway III and Mitchell R. Sharpe

2001: The Lost Science - by Adam Johnson

2001: The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey by Frederick I Ordway III and Robert Godwin

Category:Annotated Bibliography of Space Science and Technology by Frederick I. Ordway III


Click here to listen to Fred Ordway's speech on the occasion of him winning the Arthur C. Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award. Washington DC Oct 22 2013.