Arthur C. Clarke His ultimate legacy - space elevators
Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England, and as a boy enjoyed stargazing and reading old American science-fiction magazines (pulp magazines, many of which made their way to England in ships with sailors who read them to pass the time). After secondary school and studying at Huish’s Grammar School, Taunton, he was unable to afford a university education and got a job as an auditor in the pensions section of the Board of Education.
During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defence system which contributed to the RAF’s success during the Battle of Britain. Clarke actually spent most of his service time working on the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar, as documented in his semi-autobiographical novel Glide Path. GCA did not see much practical use in WW-II, but after several more years of development, it was vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. He was demobilised with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. After the war, he earned a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King’s College London.
A ‘Clarke’ orbit
In the postwar years Clarke became involved with the British Interplanetary Society and served for a time as its chairman. His most important contribution may be the idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays. He was the first in the world to propose this in a paper privately circulated among the core technical members of the BIS in 1945. The concept was later published in Wireless World in October of that year. Clarke has also written a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details and societal implications of rocketry and space flight. The most notable of these may be The Exploration of Space (1951) and The Promise of Space (1968). In recognition of this a geostationary orbit is sometimes called a ‘Clarke’ orbit. While Clarke had a few stories that appeared in fanzines between 1937 and 1945, his first professional sale appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946; Loophole was published in April, and Rescue Party, was published in May. Along with his writing, Clarke worked briefly as Assistant Editor of Science Abstracts (1949) before devoting himself to writing full-time from 1951. Clarke also contributed to the Dan Dare series, and his first three published novels were for a juvenile audience.
In 1948, he wrote The Sentinel for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected, it changed the course of Clarke’s career. Not only the basis for 2001, The Sentinel introduced a more mystical and cosmic element to Clarke’s work. Many of Clarke’s later works feature a technologically advanced but prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars, Childhood’s End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution. In 1953 Clarke met and quickly married Marilyn Mayfield, a twenty-two year old American divorcee with a young son. They separated permanently after six months, although a divorce was not finalized until 1964.
He has lived in Sri Lanka since 1956, immigrating when it was still called Ceylon, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo. Clarke holds citizenship of both the UK and Sri Lanka. He has long been an avid scuba diver and a member of the Underwater Explorers’ Club, and living in Sri Lanka has afforded him the opportunity to visit the ocean year-round. It also inspired the locale for his novel The Fountains of Paradise, in which he describes a space elevator. This, he believes, will ultimately be his legacy, more so than geostationary satellites, once space elevators make space shuttles obsolete.
His many predictions culminated in 1958 when he began a series of essays in various magazines that eventually became Profiles of the Future, published in book form in 1962. A timetable up to the year 2100 describes inventions and ideas including such things as a global library for 2005.
Early in his career, Clarke had a fascination with the paranormal, and has stated that it was part of the inspiration for his novel Childhood’s End. He has also said that he was one of several who were fooled by a Uri Geller demonstration at Birkbeck College. Although he has long since dismissed and distanced himself from nearly all pseudoscience, he still advocates research into purported instances of psychokinesis and other similar phenomena.
In the early 1970s he signed a three-book publishing deal, a record for a science-fiction writer at the time. The first of the three was Rendezvous with Rama in 1973, which won him all the main genre awards and has spawned sequels that, along with the 2001 series, formed the backbone of Clarke’s later career. In 1975, his short story The Star was not included in a new high school English textbook in Sri Lanka because of concerns that it might offend Roman Catholics even though it had already been selected. The same textbook also caused controversy because it replaced Shakespeare’s work with that of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Isaac Asimov.
In the 1980s Clarke became well known to many for his television programmes Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers. In 1988, he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome and has since needed to use a wheelchair most of the time. Clarke was the first Chancellor of the International Space University, serving from 1989 to 2004, and Chancellor of Moratuwa University, Sri Lanka, from 1979 to 2002.