He attended the California Institute of Technology where he received a B.S. in geology in 1940, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a flying cadet. The Army sent him back to Cal Tech to finish his master’s degree in meteorology, which he accomplished in 1941. He was commissioned on July 1 of that year and spent World War II as a weather officer in the Philippines and at numerous locations in the United States. At the end of the war, the Army offered him an opportunity to continue his studies at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), where he received his Ph.D. in meteorology and physics in 1952.
After UCLA, Fritz returned to the Air Weather Service (AWS) and was made director of geophysical research at Cambridge Field Station in Massachusetts, where he managed a staff of about 75 civilians and military personnel. Fritz worked with sounding rockets, such as the “Aerobee” and “V-2/Bumper,” which gave him extensive practical experience in putting payloads on rockets.
Following his tour at Cambridge, he was assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he became the deputy director of the CIA Physics and Electronics Division in the Office of Scientific Intelligence. At the CIA, he developed a close working relationship with the renowned intelligence officer Richard Bissell—a relationship that would prove essential in the eventual development of the Corona Program, the world’s first photoreconnaissance satellite system.
In August 1956, Fritz was made the first director of the Air Force Weapons System-117L Advanced Reconnaissance System Program by USAF Major General Bernard A. Schriever. WS-117L was established after several studies conducted by Project RAND (later RAND Corporation) affirmed the technical feasibility and potential of satellite reconnaissance. WS-117L led to the establishment of launch complexes and vehicles, spacecraft, the Satellite Control Center, and tracking stations used in all early National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite programs, including Corona.
Fritz Oder initiated and supervised many of the engineering decisions in the nascent field of satellite design and launching,