The man who gave world a glimpse of the future

March 19th, 2008 - 11:47 am ICT by admin  

(Arthur C. Clarke Obituary)
By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 19 (IANS) Arthur C. Clarke, who died here Wednesday at 90, bridged the sciences and the arts, and through his science fiction writing, gave the world a glimpse of the future. Born in Minehead in Somerset, England Dec 16, 1917 in a farming family, Clarke moved to London in 1936 to pursue his interest in the space sciences. He joined the British Interplanetary Society (BIS), wrote to its bulletin, and began to churn out science fiction.

When World War II broke out in 1939, young Clarke joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). Luckily, he landed up being in charge of the world’s first radar-talk down equipment, the Ground-Controlled Approach, during its trials.

Later, his non-fiction novel “Glide Path” was based on this particular bit of work in the RAF.

After the war, in 1945, Clarke returned to London and to the BIS of which he was president between 1947 and 1950. He got a second term in 1953.

In 1945, a British periodical “Wireless World” published Clarke’s landmark paper “Extra Terrestrial Relays” in which he set forth the principles of satellite communication with satellites in geo-stationary orbits. Clarke’s dream came true 25 years later.

He then began to work with US scientists and engineers in the development of spacecraft and launch systems.

Meanwhile, he had gone back to university to complete his scientific education. He was awarded a fellowship at King’s College, London, where he obtained a first class in physics and mathematics.

In 1954, Clarke wrote to Harry Wexler, then chief of the Scientific Services Division of the US Weather Bureau, about satellite applications in weather forecasting. From this was born a new branch of meteorology, making Wexler a pioneer in the use of rockets and satellites in weather forecasting.

Clarke wrote fiction as well as non-fiction prolifically. Among his many non-fiction works was “Profiles of the Future”. This 1962 publication looked at the probable shape of tomorrow’s world and stated its “Three Laws”.

In 1964, Clarke entered the film world to make “2001: A Space Odyssey” with Stanley Kubrick, and shared an Oscar nomination with him four years later.

In the early 1950s Clarke had fallen in love with Sri Lanka, which he had visited after the war as a scuba diving enthusiast. He settled down in the idyllic island in 1956 to continue his work in peace.

He wrote his book “The Odyssey File - The Making of 2010″ in Sri Lanka in 1985. When this was made into a movie with Peter Hyams of Los Angeles, the two communicated through a Kypro computer and a modem.

Into television in a major way, Clarke collaborated with Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra in the Columbia Broadcasting System’s coverage of the Apollo 12 and 15 space missions.

The 13-part “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” in 1981 and “Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers” in 1984 were shown the world over.

Though confined to a wheel chair for many years because of polio, Clarke’s enthusiasm for work in the frontiers of knowledge never diminished.

At the time of his death he was working on the idea of a “space elevator” saying that the “golden age of space is only just beginning!”

In his old age, Clarke was accused of being a paedophile by the British and Sri Lankan media. The award of a knighthood in 1998 became controversial because of this. But the British government was undeterred, and Clarke was unfazed.

In his most recent media interview, Clarke had said that he was very worried about the world’s dependence on oil for its fuel needs.

“I should like to see us kick the current addiction to oil and adopt clean energy sources. Climate change has now added a sense of urgency. We can’t allow coal and oil to bake our planet.”

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