Arthur C Clarke remembered
Science fiction writer and visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke died on 19 March 2008 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the age of 90. He was born on 16 December 1917 in Minehead, Somerset in the United Kingdom and moved to Sri Lanka; then called Ceylon, in 1956.
The international telecommunication community will remember Sir Arthur for making popular the concept of using the geostationary orbit for communications. In October 1945, Clarke published in the British magazine Wireless World a technical paper entitled “Extra-terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?” The paper established the feasibility of artificial satellites as relay stations for Earth-based communications.
Arthur C Clarke in 1984 at work on the film sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Photograph: Rex Features/MGM
Clarke predicted that one day communications around the world would be possible via a network of three geostationary satellites spaced at equal intervals around the Earth’s equator.
Nearly two decades later, in 1964, Syncom 3 became the first geostationary satellite to finally fulfil Clarke’s prediction. Later that year, Syncom 3 was used to relay television coverage of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo to the United States — the first television transmission over the Pacific Ocean. Now, there are hundreds of satellites in orbit and providing communications to millions of people around the globe. In 1954, Clarke had also proposed using satellites in meteorology. Today, we cannot imagine predicting the weather without using dedicated meteorological satellites.
Looking back on these developments, in his book How the World Was One — Beyond the Global Village, published in 1992, Clarke wrote: “Sometimes I’m afraid that you people down on Earth take the space stations for granted, forgetting the skill and science and courage that went to make them. How, often do you stop to think that all your long-distance phone calls, and most of your TV programmes are routed through one or the other of the satellites? And how often do you give any credit to the meteorologists for the fact that weather forecasts are no longer the joke they were to our grandfathers, but are dead accurate ninety-nine percent of the time?”
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he was “deeply saddened” by Clarke’s death. He added that “Sir Arthur made important intellectual, cultural and scientific contributions to Sri Lankan development, while engaged in his scientific research and creative writing that earned him well-deserved praise the world over.”
Mr Rajapaksa mentioned how, “always ahead of his time,” Clarke had focused international attention on the need for a tsunami warning system, after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. The people of Sri Lanka were touched by “the courage with which he acted for the protection of nature and the environment, long before climate change assumed the importance it has today.” (The President’s full message is available here).
“We owe Sir Arthur our gratitude for helping to usher in the space age and, in particular, the use of geostationary satellites for worldwide radio coverage,” said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General. “Satellite communication systems have a huge potential to offer, promising high-capacity transmission capabilities over wide areas. They have an important role to play in bridging the digital divide.”
Valery Timofeev, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, who met Clarke in 1979 at an INTELSAT Exhibition, organized during a World Administrative Radio Conference remembers him “as an extraordinary man of great warmth and scientific vision, who devoted all his writings and predictions to the positive development of humankind”.
Clarke wrote more than 80 books involving science, and science fiction. His short story The Sentinel served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. His other famous works include The Exploration of Space, The Promise of Space, The Fountains of Paradise, his semi-autobiographical novel Glide Path, and Childhood’s End. Before his death, Clarke had just reviewed the manuscript of his latest novel, The Last Theorem.
A Book of Condolence for Sir Arthur C. Clarke is open for signature at the ITU headquarters in Geneva from 26 March to 4 April 2008. – International Telecommunication Union