Even as a young boy, Ordway was fascinated by the idea of space travel. At the age of 13, he applied for membership in the American Rocket Society (now known as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) — and was accepted, making him the youngest member ever, and eventually became its longest-serving member: 74 years. After service in World War II, he went to work with a rocket motor company, but was recruited in 1955 by rocket pioneer Werner von Braun to join his team at the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency. That team later transferred to NASA, where Ordway worked on designing the Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon.
Ordway wrote extensively about the future of humans in space, and in 1965 he went to New York for a meeting with his three different publishers: he was writing numerous books on the subject. He heard science fiction grand master Arthur C. Clarke, a friend of his, was also in town, so they met. Clarke was fascinated by Ordway’s books (notably Life in Other Solar Systems (1965) and Intelligence in the Universe, not yet published at that time), and as he was leaving the club where they met, Ordway was surprised to get a call from film director Stanley Kubrick. Clarke had called Kubrick from a phone booth to recommend him for a project they were working on together — the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ordway was hired as the scientific and technical advisor for the film, making sure what it depicted was reasonable for the expected technology at the turn of the century. Ordway even helped design the spacecraft for the film, giving the film an authentic look. In all, Ordway wrote 30 books on the history, and future, of space flight, wrote 250 journal articles, and was the editor of the American Astronautical Society’s Journal of Astronautics. When he retired, he donated his lifetime collection of pulp science fiction magazines (and more serious books) to universities, to ensure one of his lifelong goals was met: to preserve the history of space travel. Frederick I. Ordway III died in Huntsville, Ala., on July 1. He was 87.