Letter | Remembering Fred Ordway, the Space Age Scribe
I recently lost a close associate and one of my best friends — Frederick Ira Ordway III, a true Space Age historian, futurist and prolific author who passed away in July [“Frederick Ordway Dies; Worked on Apollo Program, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’” July 14, page 9]. He meticulously researched and recorded the past, present and future potential for space exploration and development through a torrent of books, articles, other published works and presentations.
I met Fred in the mid-1950s, when the Space Age was about to spring forth, at the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in Huntsville, Alabama. I was a project engineer in the Liquid Propulsion Section of the Structures and Mechanics Laboratory and Fred soon became heavily involved in the ABMA information and communication needs including publications. We worked closely with the German rocket team directed by Dr. Wernher von Braun and made many long-term friends with this unique collection of rocket experts.
After the launch of Sputnik and the formation of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the Saturn program took center stage as a part of the national Apollo program. Fred joined NASA and I operated my own consulting and technical services contract firm, which supported several tasks with Fred’s space information/intelligence activities. After Apollo ended, we joined the University of Alabama in Huntsville and helped to initiate the preparation of the official NASA history of the Saturn program (titled “Stages to Saturn”) and the formation of its historical space archive collection, which is still very active today. Fred later joined the Department of Energy while I pursued renewable energy research efforts with academia, NASA and industry.
Fred maintained an intense research and writing schedule and continued to chronicle a broad range of spaceflight activity — eventually producing some 30 books and 250 articles. His greatest contribution was his ability to communicate with and educate, not only the space community but also the general public. Through his publications, he was able to provide a better understanding of the accomplishments of the overall space program.
We did manage to collaborate on several projects over the years, including my research support of “The Rocket Team,” a book co-authored by Fred and Mitch Sharpe that offered a historical overview of the contributions of the von Braun team to our American exploits in space. We also prepared the scripts for several space educational programs that were narrated by Dr. von Braun and published by Doubleday. We also had occasions to attend world fairs, football games and many other social events over the years.
Fred Ordway was a unique person, dedicated to his profession and with a magnetic and friendly personality. He was creative, inspirational in his manner and a loving family man, and is sorely missed by his many co-workers and contacts throughout the world. Besides his family, I was one of his last visitors in the hospital and we were able to reminisce and say our last goodbyes. For that, I am very grateful.
David L. Christensen