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OBITUARIES / Edsel D. Dunford, 1935 - 2008

Cold War aerospace engineer also served four years as head of TRW

October 08, 2008|Peter Pae | Times Staff Writer

Edsel D. Dunford, a former TRW Inc. president and aerospace engineer who helped develop pioneering satellites for the U.S. during the Cold War, died Friday. He was 73.

Dunford died at his home in Rolling Hills after kidney cancer that was diagnosed in July spread to his brain, said his wife, Lorie.

A longtime South Bay resident, Dunford spent most of his aerospace career at the sprawling Space Park complex in Redondo Beach, where TRW developed missiles and satellites throughout the Cold War.

Dunford retired as president of TRW in 1994 after a career that spanned 30 years, much of it in an atmosphere of tension with the Soviet Union.

Since the 1960s, Dunford had "played a significant role in the design and development of U.S. space systems," including communication satellites for the U.S. military and space-based observatories for NASA, said Northrop Grumman Corp., which acquired TRW in 2002, in a statement.

Though most of his work with military systems remains classified, Dunford was involved in the development of Milstar, a constellation of satellites that the U.S. military still uses to communicate.

For NASA, Dunford was responsible for the design of Pioneer 10, the first satellite to travel beyond the solar system, and the payload for the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, one of the more complex communications systems ever built.

Dunford also led the division that built what became known as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, a satellite that helped astronomers study some of the more enigmatic phenomena in space, including black holes, pulsars and supernovae, for nearly a decade. The satellite was brought down in 2000.

As general manager of TRW's space sector in the late 1980s, Dunford also oversaw painful job cuts at Space Park as the end of the Cold War led to a slowdown in defense spending. More than 3,000 positions were eliminated.

"When you are growing rapidly, you add a lot of new capability," Dunford said in a 1989 interview. "In a tougher market, you want to make sure you use those capabilities in the best way."

In 1991, Dunford was named TRW president and chief operating officer. He retired three years later at 59.

He co-wrote and co-produced "The Cold War and Beyond," a feature-length documentary that included rare interviews with U.S. and Russian officials who were on opposite ends of the conflict.

The documentary, which debuted at the 2002 Hollywood Film Festival, was one of his more passionate projects, according to his wife.

"He had insights on the Cold War that few had," she said.

The son of George Washington Dunford, Edsel Delano Dunford was born in 1935 in North Dakota and grew up poor on a subsistence farm there.

After serving in the U.S. Army for four years, Dunford earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Washington and a master's in engineering from UCLA.

In addition to his wife, Dunford is survived by his sons, Wyman, Stan and Philip; a daughter, Marlo Garrett; his stepchildren, Matt Henning and Abbey Greene; and 10 grandchildren.

A gathering will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at Rice Mortuary, 5310 Torrance Blvd., Torrance.

Instead of flowers, his family requests that donations be made to Torrance Memorial New Hospital Tower Fund, c/o Laura Schenasi, 3330 Lomita Blvd., Torrance, CA 90505.


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