We had heard the sad news over the 4th of July weekend that Fred Ordway had passed. He had recently received the 2013 Clarke Foundation’s Life Achievement Award and we will miss him very much.
The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at U.C. San Diego created this memorial, for which we are grateful. The centerpiece is this recording…
His obituary appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, written by William Yardley…
Mr. Ordway’s fascination with space began when he was a boy reading and collecting magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories. At 12, he joined the American Rocket Society as a student member. At 23, not long after he graduated from Harvard, he met and befriended the science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke at the first International Aeronautical Congress, held in Paris in 1950. It proved a fruitful relationship.
Fifteen years later, Mr. Ordway was a top official at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, working closely with the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, when Mr. Clarke helped him land a unique opportunity, one that would blend his childhood passion with his day job. Mr. Clarke was beginning work on a new film, a fantasy about a space mission based loosely on Mr. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel,” with the director Stanley Kubrick. Mr. Ordway, he realized, might help make it happen.
Their chance talk over drinks in January 1965 quickly led to a call from Mr. Kubrick to Mr. Ordway, then a meeting, then dinners and more meetings and a contract. Soon Mr. Ordway had become the chief technical consultant and scientific adviser for “2001.”
For much of the next two years, he was one of Mr. Kubrick’s most essential advisers, roaming from NASA offices to the corporate headquarters of companies like General Electric, taking photographs, talking up engineers and professors, copying files, consulting with set designers. He moved his family to England for the filming.
How should the characters in the film describe the way they control their spacecraft, Discovery? What should the main console look like? The movie was science fiction, but Mr. Kubrick wanted it to feel authentic.
“Could you please work out a brief, concise explanation of the propulsion system and general operating features of Discovery?” Mr. Kubrick asked of Mr. Ordway in a letter in September 1965.
But that was not all the director wanted. “I am also,” he wrote, “still awaiting your rough breakdown of acceleration, distance traveled, velocity and whatever perimeters might be interesting for the basic phases of the mission: first day, first week, middle of the mission, deceleration, etc.”
It was the height of the space age, and Mr. Ordway found considerable enthusiasm for the project among government and private-sector experts. Years later, he noted that many people who worked in space exploration shared his childhood interests.
“They all read H. G. Wells and Jules Verne,” he said. “Science fiction got us all started in the early days, I think without exception.”
In the early 1950s, Mr. Ordway worked for several companies in the New York area that were involved with rocketry and missiles, including Reaction Motors, which built engines for experimental rocket planes, and Republic Aviation, where he worked on instruments and design. At the urging of Mr. von Braun, whom he had met through a friend in New York, he moved to Huntsville, Ala., to work with him at what later became NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Although Mr. Ordway had expertise in aeronautics, his work on “2001” highlighted what might have been his most lasting contribution: as documentarian, historian and enthusiast. He wrote more than two dozen books. With Mr. von Braun, he wrote “History of Rocketry and Space Travel” (1975). Four years later, with Mitchell R. Sharpe, he wrote “The Rocket Team,” an account of early rocketry and advances made during and after World War II, including Mr. von Braun’s contributions for Germany, his home country, and the United States.
“It is as good a way as any we are likely to be offered of putting man’s landing on the moon — 10 years ago this summer — into a somewhat larger context,” Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. wrote of the book in The New York Times in 1979.
Besides his son Frederick, Mr. Ordway’s survivors include another son, Albert; a daughter, Aliette Marisol Lambert; and six grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, the former Maria Victoria Arenas, died in 2012.
Mr. Ordway was surprised by the enduring interest in “2001.” This year he wrote “2001: The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey” with Robert Godwin.
“I used the contacts I had in the space program to make certain that every module, every instrumentation panel had to make technical sense,” he recalled in a recent video interview. “That was my job, because we didn’t know where Stanley was going to poke his bloody camera.”