From our files: Arthur C. Clarke on space exploration
The science fiction writer died today in Sri Lanka.
In 1977, the MONITOR covered this talk and rare U.S. visit by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who died today. In his remarks he addresses topics from the applications of space exploration to his desire to ride the space shuttle.Skip to next paragraph
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'2001' Author and Tropic Isle
By Douglas Starr
Special to The Christian Science Monitor
From the December 14, 1977 edition of the Monitor
BOSTON - The white-faced man with the shining blue eyes steps to the podium. He stoops a bit, yet walks with a springy youthful step. His ready smile is mischievous, flashing
"Forty years ago I was one of a bunch of crazy Englishmen who used to meet several times a month in London pubs and talk about ways of going to the moon," he begins. And for the next hour he takes us on a journey to the shores of outer space…
Arthur C. Clarke paid a rare visit to the United States recently to receive the Washburn Award, given by the Boston Museum of Science for an outstanding contribution to the public's understanding of science. Mr. Clarke adds it to a collection: the Ballantine medal of the Franklin Institute: the UNESCO-Kalinga Prize; the International Fantasy Award; the AAAS-Westinghouse Science Writing Award; the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell awards, and many others.
Science and science fiction writer, he's produced more than 500 articles, stories and books. He collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the film '2001: A Space Odyssey." His most recent book, "The View From Serendip,' came out a few weeks ago. His next, "The Fountains of Paradise," is due to reach his publisher in December on his 60th birthday.
'BUNCH OF CRAZY ENGLISHMEN'
Born in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, England, Mr. Clarke's interest in science was aroused when his father gave him a postcard of a dinosaur. For two years he was absorbed by fossils, then, at the age of 12, he switched to astronomy. 'I spent my nights mapping the moon until I knew my way around it better than my native Somerset," Mr. Clarke once said.
In London, Mr. Clarke worked as a government auditor, writing science articles and science fiction in his spare time. He joined the British Interplanetary Society, that 'bunch of crazy Englishmen." The Society's membership included one George Bernard Shaw – attracted by a paper Mr. Clarke had written.
"I saw the subject of space flight go through a complete cycle," Mr. Clarke observed during his visit to Boston. "One it's utter nonsense, don't waste my time. Two, it's possible but isn't worth doing. Three, I said it was a good idea all along. Now in some ways we're back to square one again." But he added: "To be fair, we have made some progress. We may have only gone back to square two."
The problem, he says, is that the public has not been made aware of the day-to-day benefits of space flight: the weather, communication, spinoffs from the space program; guidance systems, computer chips, misinformation.
In 1945, as a young Royal Air Force technician, Mr. Clarke suggested that orbiting spacecraft could relay radio and television signals from place to place on earth. Now more than 40 communication satellites circle the globe, relaying two-thirds of all international electronic communications.
"I assumed they would be large, manned space stations," admits Mr. Clarke. "At that time at least one vacuum tube a day blew in our equipment. I didn't imagine the invention of the transistor."
For originating the idea, he won the gold medal of the Franklin Institute in 1963. He also earned $40 when he first submitted the idea in an article to 'Wireless World." Years later he recalled the event. The essay was named, "A Short Pre-History of Comsats; or How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time."