From our files: Arthur C. Clarke on space exploration
The science fiction writer died today in Sri Lanka.
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One of Mr. Clarke's favorite topics is India's experiment with a satellite. Borrowing NASA's ATS-6 satellite for one year in 1975, the Indian Government beamed educational programs more than 22,000 miles into space and back again to remote villages. The government built and distributed 2,500 simple antennas. Mr. Clarke showed a slide of a simple on during his Boston visit – half a pyramid of dried mud cradling a chicken wire dish. "Cost less than $100."
The government also gave Mr. Clarke a receiving station so he could follow the program from his home in Sri Lanka. "The pictures were essentially perfect," he declared enthusiastically.
Mr. Clarke's enthusiasm for the program reflects the direction he thinks short-term space efforts should take. "Try to concentrate on things which are now immediate applicability," he told the U.S. Congress in 1975. More recently he said, "Only by using the tools of space can we monitor the earth's resources. One of the most valuable spinoffs of the whole Apollo[manned spaceflight] program is that it enabled us to see earth as it is from space, to understand its uniqueness and fragility."
CAPTIVATED BY SRI LANKA
Arthur C. Clarke first visited Sri Lanka in 1954. He was immediately captivated by the island, making it his home two years later. Long a scuba-diving enthusiast, he delights in exploring its clear, warm, water.
The serenity of Mr. Clarke's life in Sri Lanka was changed when his partner Mike Wilson discovered two bronze cannons and a clutch of silver coins off the island in 1961. The two spent the next few years salvaging the wreck. The project became the basis for Mr. Clarke's book, "The Treasure of the Great Reef."
Commenting on the relationship between ocean and space technology, Mr. Clarke says, "anything that happens in one helps the other. Much of the work in oil drilling depends completely on satellites for positioning. It's the only way to place yourself anywhere in the ocean, anytime, day or night."
He is convinced that the future of many things lies in the oceans. "I have a hunch that future mining lies in the sea; not necessarily [in the] deep sea, but in place like the Red Sea. There are cracks in the earth's crust with hot bring coming out loaded with metals. One of the greatest resource potentials of the sea is thermal power – the temperature differentials in the upper hot waters of tropical oceans and very cold waters about a mile down."
HOPES TO RIDE SPACE SHUTTLE
He speaks of other things, some personal.
Does he think he'll ever ride the space shuttle? "I have a sporting chance. The space shuttle will be taking passengers to justify the payload within five years."
When will we begin space colonies? "Perhaps in the next 20 to 30 years we'll be staring to plan small colonies. First we've got to build societies that work here on earth."
Is it true that this will be his last trip outside Sri Lanka? "It's my last planned trip. I'm going back to England for my mother." Mr. Clarke is taking her to live with him in Sri Lanka.
"'Sri Lanka'" means 'the beautiful land, the noble land,'" he says somewhat wistfully in clipped English monotone. "I'm just finishing my big novel, the last one. It's about Sri Lanka and takes place 200 years into the future and 2000 years in the past. And in space, of course."
As he nears the end of his talk, he speaks of "other suns, some strange beyond imagination – giant red stars with tiny white companions so mismatched in size that it's as though a mosquito and an elephant were waltzing together."
He projects a slide. Taken from the moon, it shows the equipment left behind by the Apollo astronauts. 'This is a rather sad picture," he says. "The party's over, the guests have gone. Even those instruments irradiating back information from the moon have been shut off because NASA can't afford the staff to keep the records." He pauses. The words sink in. "But I'm sure we are going back," he adds. "What has already happened was merely a brief interlude in the real exploration and exploitation of space."