By Louis Varricchio. M.Sc.
The death of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), science fiction author, futurist, astronomer, space promoter, and the inventor of the communications satellite, was a double blow to the science fiction genre and the aerospace field.
While Clarke is best remembered for his award-winning, highly realistic “Space Odyssey” novels that grew out of a collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick on the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”—but he was more than just an entertaining writer of space tales.
Clarke first distinguished himself during World War II in the Royal Air Force as a radar instructor and technician. He helped develop the use of microwave technology in radar from 1941-1946. But more importantly, our modern network of global communications can be directly traced to Clarke’s 1945 plan for satellite communications. While Clarke’s proposed satellites were manned (not robotic like today’s comsats), it was a visionary idea that became a reality in less than 15 years.
For conceiving the revolutionary idea of comsats, Clarke was awarded the prestigious Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Gold Medal in 1963. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and nominated for a Nobel Prize in the 1990s.
It’s too bad Clarke never received the much coveted Nobel Prize—far less credible (or credentialed) individuals have received this prize over the years. For this writer, it’s an outrage that he was never recognized internationally by the now, sadly, overly politicized Nobel Committee.
Let’s not forget that Sir Arthur was in the forefront of pre-Space Age rocket and spacecraft design when he served as chairman of the British Interplanetary Society. Some of his early lunar exploration concepts at the BIS were incorporated in Project Apollo. He became a familiar face to millions of television viewers when he sat alongside CBS-TV news veteran Walter Cronkite during the coverage of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969.
Dr. Alan Stern, former associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at space agency headquarters in Washington, summed up Clarke’s life thus: “Arthur C. Clarke was a gifted writer of science and science fiction, and an unparalleled visionary of the future, inspiring countless young people throughout the middle and later 20th century with his hopeful vision of how spaceflight would transform societies, economies, and humankind itself. Although his personal odyssey here on Earth is now over, his vision lives on through his writing; he will be sorely missed.”
I leave you with a few words penned by Sir Arthur himself: “It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars.”
Louis Varricchio, M.Sc., is a former senior science writer at the NASA Ames Research Center in California USA.
riter at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. He is currently part of the NASA-JPL Solar System Ambassador program in Vermont and available for school and public presentations on space-related topics. You can e-mail him at: email@example.com.