Frederick Clark Durant, III is a 1939 alumnus of the engineering college. After graduating from Lehigh, he took a job with E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co until the outbreak of World War II. He enlisted in the navy and was a part of the pilot training program.
His naval experience during the war prompted him to become involved in rocketry while working at Bell Aircraft Corp. from 1946-47. From 1948-51, he was the director of engineering for the Naval Air Rocket Test Station. In 1951, when the United States was fighting in the Korean War, Durant returned to service as a test pilot. Durant also spent some time working in the Everett Research Lab and the Maynard Ordnance Test Station. In 1953, he was elected president of the American Rocket Society and was a space analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. Durant was part of the group that attempted to put the first U.S. satellite into orbit. Led by Wernher von Braun, the team developed a concept called Project Orbiter, which later served as the foundation of the successful Explorer I mission launched on 31 January 1958.
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC hired Durant in 1964 to bring the Smithsonian into the space age. He became assistant director and head of the new Astronautics Department and is responsible for making the Museum the official repository for all flown NASA hardware. Numerous satellites, spacecraft, space suits, and other space paraphernalia were collected during his tenure as director. He retired from the Smithsonian in 1980.
Durant is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as a patron of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation. He is the author or editor of a number of texts and the receipient of the Monroe J. Rathbone award from Lehigh University. Durant is also a passionate space art collector. In 1999, he presented 64 paintings from his personal collection to the Smithsonian for permanent display in their galleries. He currently lives in Raleigh, N.C.
Durant's wife was the late Carolyn "Pip" Durant.