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Celestial Mechanics, Astrodynamics, and Computers. Kenneth Ford

Kenneth Ford was another very talented astronomy student at K.U., and whose undergraduate studies (completed in 1963, I believe) overlapped those of Donald Schumacher. He decided to go elsewhere for his graduate work. We discussed the possibilities, which were rather limited since his main interest was in the field eventually called Astrodynamics or Astronautics. I was aware of Dr.Samuel Herrick (I didn't know him personally) at U.C.L.A., who had worked in this field a long time, having taught near-earth-satellite orbit theory before the war, which caused raised eyebrows in some quarters. But I had read several of his papers when preparing my own thesis in 1947, and knew that he was very competent. Another possible choice was Yale University, where Dirk Brouwer and Gerald Clemence had been stalwarts in celestial mechanics for a number of years; they had become interested in near-earth satellites after the advent of Sputnik.

Kenneth chose U.C.L.A, and was accepted by their graduate school. He subsequently sent me several interesting letters, the one dated November, 1963 being especially packed with information, an excerpt being: "I am very happy with my setup. There are seven grad students in astrodynamics proper. All except me were sent by the Army or Air Force; all must spend from four to ten years in the service after they get through here. I am the only one working directly under Herrick. I have an office, a brand new Monroe desk calculator (note by HGH: Ken very likely had access to a digital computer as well), and an undergraduate assistant to do my busy work. This gives me time for learning. Herrick hired him and then gave him to me and told me to keep him busy. Right now I am working on different methods of numerical integration to determine which is the fastest with the least amount of round-off error. I am also looking into a new method of differential correction. This method is stable and fast...This semester I am taking Astrodynamics, Astrodynamic Observation Theory, and Fluid Mechanics. I am sitting in on Advanced Celestial Mechanics, Advanced Orbit Mechanics, and Rocket Trajectory Optimization. I am also helping the grad students with numerical integration."

On March 2, 1964 he writes, "I got a 4.0 last semester, which makes me feel good. I also wrote three short papers which will come out late this year in a Russian journal. Most of my research has been with the numerical integration of orbits. At U.C.L.A. we are required to specialize in three fields for the Ph.D. Mine will be Astrodynamics, Computer Applications, and Controls. You might scout around and see if K.U. will need an astrodynamicist in three or four years. I would really like to come back and teach there someday." Needless to say, Kenneth Ford got his Ph.D. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find what happened to him after that, and the Internet hasn't helped me.


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